March 11, 2019

Fun with Archives

By Grace Gutierrez

Image of four framed archived photographs on a gallery wall in a black frame with a black background. Underneath them are black shelves with black book on top of them.


When I think of an archive, I picture a giant warehouse full of large metal shelves housing boxes of abandoned documents. They sit, waiting for a respectable researcher to fumble through the forgotten papers until “EUREKA!” they make a breakthrough in their research. An archive is a collection of historical documents or records providing information about a place, institution or group of people. Archives are utilized in a fresh and compelling way for Gravity of Perception, an exhibition using photographic archives to confront institutionalized discrimination. For this exhibition, artists have taken documents or material from their own photo archives and turned them into visual treasures addressing social struggles from the past and present. This idea of using archives from our past to articulate ideas of modernity is an interesting one to me. I question our desire to collect and stow away artifacts that help keep a memory alive, but wonder how we can actively use archives to share the memories with others. Personally, I love to accumulate junk, but for others I invite you to see value in your hidden stash of concert ticket stubs or birthday cards from grandma. Even more important are our family photographs, but all are deserving of a contemporary place.    

Archives shouldn’t be viewed as a dusty collection of useless, forgotten things. A personal archive holds great value in the grand scheme of things. I have collected national park maps since I was a small child, a hobby I questioned whether someday it would prove to be important. However, in the last few years, I have started to see a change in the parks I visit; larger crowds, fewer animals, higher entrance fees, and scariest of all, an uncertain fate of government protection and funding. I look through the maps and reminisce on my visits to Sequoia National Park and Canyonlands and realize I have an archive that not only documents a part of my history, but shares an endangered part of American history. I have a collection that would spark memories of many special weekend getaways that people got to share with nature. Who knows how sentimentally valuable that will be someday?     

The first thing I would recommend someone do with their personal archive is save it in a digital format. Digital archives are a great way to easily share your photos or documents with loved ones or the public without actually giving up the hard copy. It also provides a backup just in case something catastrophic happens to your collection. Scan your images or documents at home, or utilize facilities at your local library or Kinko’s and save them to an external hard drive and multiple flash drives. If your items are of great value and require extremely careful handling, contact a local archive specialist who can help you. This digital collection can be copied and re-formatted in hundreds of ways for personal use and sharing with others.

What are some other ways to build or showcase your own personal archive?

Instagram/Online Albums - Instagram is an unexpected connection to archives, but if you are a user, you are building an archive! With over 1 billion Instagram users just imagine all of those undiscovered archives you could discover. Here are just a few archival accounts to follow, with historical and contemporary content:

Scrapbooks/Photo albums - The word “scrapbooking” may carry a negative connotation for some, as I personally picture my mother’s scrapbooking club she formed sometimes in the 90’s. If those brightly colored, sticker filled pages aren’t your thing, try imagining a handmade leather-bound book in which you can arrange your photos and scraps in a tasteful way. The protection and organization of a book will bring your archive to the next level. Here are a couple local bookbinding companies that take great care when preserving your documents:

Make art with them! - It can be scary to imagine using your precious artifacts in a piece of artwork, but that is the beauty of your digital archive! Print high quality copies of your items and experiment with them until you find the perfect way to incorporate them into an artwork. Create a collage similar to Tya Anthony’s work featured in Gravity of Perception. Anthony incorporates an archive by placing old photos, specifically of people of color, in tarot card themed works to predict a greater future. Make sure to come see Gravity of Perception on view until March 23rd. Please share how you have archived your own personal items for a chance to be featured on our blog!