Monuments to Strangers

Johanna Warwick

In this work, I utilize news images and materially re-contextualize them to emphasize the limitations of photography as an emotionally and factually accurate record of the time. I combine analogue and digital processes to underscore the ways in which news photographs have been produced and how that production affects our understanding of cultural history. The photographs look at the selective representation of the individual within printed daily newspapers from the 1880s to the 1960s.

The figures in the blocks are unknown, but they were at one point important, or significant enough to have their image produced in this way. The images reveal how versions of history were presented publicly. I photograph to highlight how women and minorities were vastly under represented, and in re-presenting these images hope to reveal and question our flawed history. The images are etched into copper or zinc, creating long lasting portraits that have proven permanence over time. I imagine the names of the figures, question what they were once important for and explore the social context
behind them. I don’t seek to make a document as they were used before butto photograph them as visual monuments. Men are abundant; women are few and far between. The images pertain to births, graduations, professions, weddings and obituaries. Through these images a story begins to evolve of the major life events and rights of passage that people continually move through then and now.

The objects I photograph were originally made by a photomechanical process, they are blocks used to reproduce photographs for publication; these were an invention of Fox Talbot. It was the first time in history images of reality could be reproduced on presses reaching the public, rather than an image interpreted and altered by hand. While in use for over 80years, it was an imperfect process that eventually was made redundant by offset printing in the 1960s. An outdated process, today these blocks have no use. They have become antiquated, much like the newspapers that they were once printed in. I am photographing them to present this historic process and lost imagery in a new way using the technologies that made them obsolete. In re – photographing these images my photographs are several iterations of light sensitive materials being exposed; the original photograph, the re -photographed negative, the block made of the photomechanical process, and my exposure. Each image thus goes from a positive, to a negative, recorded once again as a negative then inverted to a positive. It is in the long chain of events, which traverse over decades, that the glow of light and color occurs. In the individual portraits of women, I used the original antique printing block and ink it onto a sheet of film in the darkroom. I then exposed the sheet of film with a flash and process it. The resulting print is then scanned and made into an inkjet print. Together I strive for the photographs to describe the history of representation in American daily newspapers, as well as the history of photography.