Feeling Photography 2

Submitted by Paula Cameron

On October 16th and 17th, 2009, I was fortunate to attend Feeling Photography, an international, interdisciplinary conference about emotions and photography held at the University of Toronto’s Monk Centre for International Studies. This is the second in a series of articles about talks I attended at this event.

One of two closing plenary speakers, Ann Cvetkovich, explored the idea of a queer archive through a care-full examination of the work of two queer feminist photographers, Tammy Rae Carland and Zoe Leonard. By considering works that document the intersection of personal and historical loss, Cvetkovich articulated a “queer archival practice” that transcends sexual identification. She defines this practice as any work that documents felt experience as historically important. (This raises interesting questions about queering the feminist archive, revisiting feminist history and literature as primarily queer practices, rather than the more common tendency to include queer studies under a gender studies or feminist banner. Cvetkovich implicitly invites all viewers and makers into this queer aesthetic, illustrating the community building alternatives to traditionally exclusive archives.)

Ann concentrated on Carland’s recent project, An Archive of Feelings, in which she carefully documented ordinary domestic objects from her mother’s apartment. Arranging items such as doilies, recipe cards, and letters against a white surface, Carland intuitively composed a kind of visual poetry about the life that joined these objects as a personal archive. (You can see her work here.) Her archive of feelings has been recorded in book form, mimicking the format of traditional archival publications, and has also been represented in part as a poster, which echoes Roland Barthes in asking: “Who will record the history of tears?” I think Cvetkovich beautifully complemented the conference’s opening talks, adding this intimate documentation of “ordinary” loss to David Eng and Diana Taylor’s considerations of extraordinary political trauma—two streams of this history of tears.

Ann then moved to Zoe Leonard’s Analogue, a photographic archive of public spaces in decline. In this ongoing series, Leonard moves from more personal considerations of gender and sexuality to archiving public spaces of New York City’s Lower East Side, her home for over twenty years. These documented spaces of aging small storefronts and hand-drawn signs, threatened by increasing encroachment of global consumerism and gentrification, wed the personal and historical experiences of the New York queer community. As still lives, the thousands of images within Analogue grieve and commemorate both the architectural aesthetic of community and the absent figures whose lives were so intertwined with them. Like Carland’s references to a life absent from her photographs, Leonard catalogues a queer archive of feelings against the backdrop of individual lives—in this case, she considers the historical affect (or feeling) of public spaces rather than personal artifacts, examining the spaces where humans and objects work on each other.

~ by artpoped on October 22, 2009.

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