The Excess of the Photographic Archive

The Excess of the Photographic Archive

Estelle Blaschke

iron_mountain.jpg

Corbis Film Preservation Facility, iron Mountain, Boyers, Pennsylvania

Photography's ability to record and the reproducabilty of the medium have determined its economic potential, and led to the development of market based on the photographic image. As key players in this market, photographic agencies and commercial photo archives have accumulated vast collections in order to satisfy and stimulate the ever-increasing demand for visual imagery, and to ensure its sustained exploitation. This project examined the creation of the digital image archive fueled by the fantasy of ‘"ollecting everything" and the potential of selling it. On the example of the “visual content provider” Corbis, it explores the implications of the economical paradigm on the archive and traces the resistance of the photographic archive, and the archive as such, to accommodate excessive amounts of images, in particular with regard to their classification and retrieval. By describing the functioning of image search tools and the construction of an image “product,” the project suggested that, in the commercial context, the value of the photographic image (and indeed its existence) relies on its accompanying textual information and its organization within the archive. The discrepancy between the actual practice and the use of the archive on the one hand, and the notion of a quasi-automated and ideal (and idealized) archive, manifests itself in the history and development of Corbis.