`Anybody and Everybody': here is new york.
With an interview with Charles Traub Alessandra Mauro
Who can even begin to recount a tragedy as destabilizing as the one that befell New York on 11 September 2001? Who is best qualified to provide an accurate, sensitive first-hand account of an attack that erupted out of the blue into the city's rich, complex everyday life, turning the life of its inhabitants and visitors upside down, affecting the whole country - if the attacks in Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., are taken into account - and, indeed, the entire Western world?
According to the curators of here is new york, the answer is: no one in particular, but everyone in equal measure. Anybody who recorded a personal view of the tragedy with a camera and kept this memento as a testimony of his or her individual experience was a trustworthy eyewitness to the events of that day and the days that immediately followed. And all these visual testimonies could be brought together on equal footing to form a collective exhibition.
The aim of the exhibition here is new york: a democracy of photographs, which opened in New York City on 25 September 2001, was to bear witness to and document the tragedy of those days, and also the possibility of a new sense of community that might rise from its ashes. As the show's subtitle and that of the accompanying book suggested, the great novelty of the here is new york project lay in its attempt to work with photography as a democratic and wide-reaching means of expression, as though it were a connecting tissue allowing a sense of collectiveness and identity.
It all began in a former women's clothing shop at 116 Prince Street in SoHo, about fifteen blocks north of Ground Zero, which had recently become vacant. The shop was next to the studio of Michael Shulan, an artist and art critic who, upon hearing of the attack, decided almost without thinking to stick a photograph of the Twin Towers, taken some time before, in the empty window.
It was an instinctive and emotional gesture that would give rise to the project itself, as Shulan recalled: 'A day or two later, Gilles Peress, who had been down at Ground Zero photographing for the New Yorker, called me on my cell phone and asked what I was doing. I replied that I was in the shop staring at a group of people staring at a photograph, and was thinking about putting up some more. "Do it," he said simply. We met the following evening with two other friends and colleagues, Alice Rose George and Charles Traub, and quickly devised a plan. In those turbulent days it seemed as if everyone in New York had a camera, and we decided that the exhibition should be as broad and inclusive as possible, open to "anybody and everybody": not just photojournalists and other professional photographers, but bankers, rescue workers, artists and children - amateurs of every stripe."
Everyone took part; everyone rapidly sent in photos. Within a short space of time 5,000 images had been collected, taken by 3,000 different people, some of them professionals, others amateurs. The idea was to scan all the images, turn them into digital files and to print them all in the same format before hanging them on wires, without frames or mounts, against the window of the SoHo shop and inside it. (Michael Shulan said the inspiration for this was a recent trip to Naples, where he had seen laundry hanging out to dry in the sun, suspended from wires above the narrow streets.) Once they had been recorded and displayed in this way, the images were available to buy at the easily accessible price of $25 each, the proceeds going to the Children's Aid Society.
With the help of a group of efficient volunteers, the show opened on 25 September and, owing to the initiative's incredible success, remained open for months, enjoying an unprecedented turnout, attracting queues in front of the shop and throughout the neighbourhood. There were excellent print sales, and a website was constructed that not only contained the photos in the exhibition, but also a series of touching interviews and video testimonies. Other satellite shows in the US and abroad replicated the vast selection of images that been acquired, echoing the project's collective and supportive spirit.
In short, here is new york (or hiny, as it was known) became a point of reference for the city, but also a symbolic and innovative way of creating, through photography, an event that was at once a documentary act of witness, a fundraising initiative and an exhibition of photos - something completely new and different. Everyone participated, both photographers and visitors (the distinction became increasingly blurred). Michael Shulan has described it thus: 'here is new york is a very small part of the story of 9/11, but in its own way it became a microcosm of what took place in the disaster's aftermath at Ground Zero and elsewhere in the city. Not an art exhibition in the conventional sense - partly an impromptu memorial, partly a rescue effort, and partly a testimonial of support for those who were actually doing the rescuing - it became a rallying point for the neighbourhood and for the community at large.'
Many remarked on how the tragedy of 9/11 seemed almost destined to be filmed and photographed. Fred Ritchin has spoken of screens being invaded, almost conquered, by the attackers,' and of how the image of the burning towers, transmitted non-stop by television channels and published in
the press, became some kind of visual mantra. David Friend has also pinpointed the emerging role of digital photography in the 24-hour rolling news coverage that we now take for granted, and the existence of the internet - crucial factors that decreed the photographic and media significance of the attack on the Twin Towers in a decisive manner: 'At the start of the new millennium, news organizations phased in a pair of relatively new technologies that would prove transformative. These two advances, just coming of age in the 1990s, enabled the events of September 2001 to be the first such acts witnessed in "real time" in virtually identical fashion, by an overwhelming share of the world's inhabitants.
Thus the event was widely photographed and extensively shared. Everyone felt in some way involved: those who were on the city's streets that day, of course, but also those who saw what was happening live on television (thus becom-ing eye-witnesses). The general sensation of profound shock became a point of reference, an experiential watershed ('Where were you that day?'). For the first time, every citizen was witness to the story unfolding before his or her eyes and, on the basis of his or her own testimony, had the right to speak.
Years later, we can trace in those few days the genesis of a new, direct relationship with history, made and dismantled before our eyes and a myriad photographic lenses. This rela-tionship fed on a sense of unity and identity; and photography was used to remember, testify, communicate and share individual experiences. It helped to relieve the pain. Photography became, so to speak, the event itself. David Levi Strauss has commented on how, in the face of the unspeakable horror that had occurred, the images, with their dis-tance and sense of unreality, made the drama somehow much more acceptable than words could have done: 'In the hours and days following the events, words seemed inadequate and, curiously, too real to signify. Only photographs had just enough unreality and distance to "make it real" to us. Seeing is believing, but photographs are more accessible. We don't necessarily believe them, but we accept them. They have become our familiars, domesticated versions of our once wild sight's.
Although photography played such a meaningful role in recording the facts and emotions aroused by the tragedy of 9/11, the experience of here is new york was larger than simple documentation. Both Professional and amateur photographers were rapidly contacted and asked to submit their contributions. With great speed, these images were scanned and immediately made available to view and acquire. The images were assembled indiscriminately: no photograph was given greater importance than the others or discarded as insignificant. Every witness had the right to tell his or her version of events and to include a photo in the show's memorializing family album.6 Everyone was involved, immediately, because everyone remembered.
hiny's format was adaptable and soon evolved, finding new forms of visibility and participation. A year after the exhibition - which nevertheless remained the starting point, the moment the city's inhabitants came together - came the book, which out of necessity reproduced only a selection of the images that been amassed (though still contained over a thousand), followed by the website. In addition to constituting an incredible online archive, vast but clearly organized, the latter offered spoken and visual accounts: the 'voices' of 9/11.
The exhibition space - be it the venue on Prince Street or the virtual space that later appeared online - was a truly public sphere where a democracy of images was at work. It was open to all and encouraged active participation in the community's healing process; a kind of photographic ritual took place that allowed every individual to express his or her grief and transform it into a source of collective strength. A personal image, a fragment of everyday experience, became part of collective history. The rich and varied material that was assembled gradually adapted itself to new uses; as the cultural historian Miles Orvell has observed, this stream of images, all equally valid, suggested an new way of using photography and thinking of history: 'What we are presented with is, in fact, an alternative mode of photographic practice and history: not the great photographs of widely celebrated photographers, not the most "iconic" image, not a selection of "representative" images.''
In Orvell's opinion, the project's momentum helped dismantle the established canons that, up to that point, had directed how photography should be displayed. hiny relied on the inclusivity of the curatorial effort rather than exclusivity (the organizers did not choose which images to exhibit, but simply selected all those relevant to the theme), thereby excluding the possibility of any hierarchy between the photographs. Any possible notion of visual economy - the principle that less is more - was swept aside. Moreover, these images did not repeat or reflect what had already been published in the newspapers (the press, it seemed, was no longer the main reference for news and current events) - if anything, they incorporated it into a much wider whole. In addition, the established journalistic market was totally undermined, given that all the images were obtainable for the same symbolic sum. Lastly, hiny completely overturned the value of aesthetic contemplation as the basis for visiting to a photographic exhibition. The spectator's experience was now entirely different: it demanded that he or she become involved in the project as though contributing to the realization of a collective work.
The interweaving of public and private in a dramatic visual experience, it's fundamentally democratic set-up, the use of digital media, the deliberate lack of distinction between images that were meaningful and images that were redundant - all served in some sense to redefine the photographic medium. Orvell writes that: 'One wonders whether we might indeed be moving beyond the very notion of the definitive photograph or whether one will yet surface that seems to say it all; nevertheless, the very effort to move the record beyond the professional documentary or news photographer to this broad array of picture makers expresses not only the inescapable significance of the event but also the democratization of photography both as a medium of communication and as a means of coming together.
Now that the sharing of images has become commonplace, others have turned to the idea of using the internet to stream photographs that recount our daily lives. This accumulation of images constitutes a new kind of documentary account of our present, but has also redefined the way it is presented in exhibition form. The installation 24 Hrs in Photos, presented by Erik Kessels in 2011 at Foam in Amsterdam, and in the summer of 2013 at the Rencontres d'Arles, for example, approached the internet and museum spaces as two possible poles of a relationship between the production of images and the location chosen for their display. In a single room, the curator physically assembled all the photographs posted on Flickr and Facebook on a single day. Rather than remaining within their virtual networks, the images now invaded physical space, occupying it like a river in full flow. Visitors were required to move between the photographs, select the ones they preferred, attempt to find their bearings in the visual stream at their feet, and construct their own, often difficult, path. Far from denying the importance of the container/museum room, this space thus presented an unrepeatable opportunity for unique experiences. Displayed in exhibition spaces, photographs can thus find a new purpose: once again they become objects to contemplate with a fresh gaze and a clear mind.
here is new york and the 'Creative Interlocutor' Interview with Charles Traub, Chair, MFA Photography, Video and Related Media, School of Visual Arts, New York Alessandra Mauro
AM | I will start with a very basic question. How did the here is new york exhibition begin?
CT| The question 'What sparked the idea?' is frequently asked. It was simply the synergistic experience of a number of people coming together in a creative fashion to do something meaningful for the community. In 1998 I wrote a manifesto called 'The Creative Interlocutor'. It described the 'creative interlocutor' as someone who facilitates the exchange of ideas between one party in need and another, creating an energy that is both the product and the producer of enlightened engagement within the digital realm. These people serve as navigators, helmsmen, producers, directors and organizers of the infinite creative possibilities presented by the digital world. Moreover, they are editors, collectors and curators who make, weave, weld and build; in sum, they are distributors of inspiration. here is new york (hiny) is a perfect example of the results of creative interlocutorship.
Michael Shulan, one of the four principal organizers of hiny, and I had been talking for many years about computer interactivity: a new means of combining image, photography, and everything that could be reduced to zeros and ones. Michael had taught a kind of digital storytelling in my department. SVA MFA Photo, the first graduate programme to seriously explore digital photography and its use. As far back as 1988 SVA had digital printers. Michael lived on Prince Street in Solo and was part owner of the building's storefront, which had been recently vacated. When the tragedy of 9'11 occurred, he reflexively put an amateur photo of the -r in Towers, bought in a Ilea market, in the storefront window as a kind of tribute.
Devastated by 9t11, my students at SVA (the School of Visual Arts) called a meeting to talk about their feelings. A number of us put our images of the World Trade Center on the walls of our exhibition space. I had made a documentary of the New York waterfront in 1988, and many of the stills included in LIves of the Twin Towers. We put them up to say, 'Let's remember!' Meanwhile. journalists. artists, amateurs, everyone was photographing everything. It actually turned out to be the most photographed event in history.
The chronology of events is hard to remember now and of course has become distorted with time. History is like that! 1 do remember that Michael Simian called me a week or so after 9,11 to say that people were gathering around the photograph in his storefront. 'Could we do some kind of exhibition down here?', he asked. I related what had happened at SVA and called another meeting with my students. Alice Rose George, an important photograph editor, and Gilles Peress, the noted Magnum photographer. both of whom had already been contacted by Michael, also attended the meeting.
We began brainstorming. That's where the synergy occurred; events began to gel. No single person could claim to be the originator of this remarkable exhibition. 'Well,' someone said, 'you know we could just call for photographs and let people come in with them.' Michael suggested that we string wires across the space like clothes lines and hang pictures from them. I reminded everyone of SITA's digital resources for printing. We decided to let everyone and anyone bring in their photos - a 'democracy of photographs', as someone said. Alice George agreed to call the professional communities she knew: journalists, editors and the Magnum photographers who happened to be holding their annual meeting in New York at the time of the 9/11 attack. It was decided that no distinction should be made between amateurs and professionals who offered their photographs to be displayed.
We agreed that everything would be printed the same size and displayed with no name that would distinguish one photographer from another. The idea was to give uniformity and sameness to all the photographs so that they would work together in their equal importance. A graduate student from Australia walked into the meeting and asked if anyone had read the 'Here Is New York' piece by E. B..White that the New Yorker had just reprinted. It was a celebratory article about New York, written right after World War II, that described the possibility of an airplane attack on our skyscrapers. Someone yelled, 'That should be the name of the show!' Gilles Peress suggested adding a dash and 'A Democracy of Photographs'. This was the spirit of the moment - we wanted to be positive, to create a community that held individuality at bay in order to share the bigger, collective idea of everyone expressing themselves freely. Inevitably, some egos raged and others acquiesced.
Students volunteered to man a number of printers that SVA gave to the project. Gilles designed the first window sign. We hung the wires and began a process of accepting photos, whether they were digital files, negatives, finished prints, prints made in a drug store or professionally done. One has to remember that the storefront was on a very busy and trendy street, in a popular area. In a matter of a few days, people from all walks of life were bringing images to this creative memorial. It could be a schoolgirl, a survivor, maybe a fireman, a newspaper photographer, whoever. We were jump-started by the participation of Magnum, the New York Times and Contact Press Photographers, which Alice had secured. Likewise, my call to the arts community generated even more participation.
AM | Were professionals concerned about not being acknowledged?
CT | Yes, some were. But when we explained that we were not going to showcase any individual above anyone else, we generally received their agreement. We told them, 'That's the way it is, and you don't have to participate if you don't want to share in this experience.' Of course, we are all human, and some were less happy than others. I remember one very well-known photographer complaining that his images were at the back of the room and saying that they should be moved up. One of the student volunteers told him that we were hanging the pictures as they came in, and rotating them as much as possible as we added wires to accommodate their increasing number. The photographer left sheepishly.
In the first few weeks, the idea of the show grew like wildfire. Photographers lined up to give us their images. Volunteers lined up to help us manage the work. Others queued round the block to bear witness to this makeshift memorial. Susan Sontag stood in line like everyone else to enter the small, crowded space. There were all kinds of celebrities - Denzel Washington, Susan Sarandon, Rosie O'Donnell, Spike Lee, Rosanne Cash and Wesley Snipes - as well as politicians, business moguls and everyday people who came together reverently and humbly to participate. Even Bill Clinton came!
AM | How did you manage all of that? Did you have an overall plan?
CT | It was all in the spirit of creative giving and the shared intention of a group of creative interlocutors. When visitors asked to buy some of the photographs, we agreed to print and sell them. Initially, people left with their images on the same day, but within a week such fulfilment was impossible. We set up more banks of printers, and new volunteers came in: some from foreign countries, some with specific expertise and some just to help. Brenda Manes, a new arrival from Texas, volunteered to help organize the print workflow. She stayed for two years and during that time supervised the production of over 40,000 prints. It appeared that we were going to make a profit, and someone suggested that we give the money to charity. Michael Shulan proposed the Children's Aid Society, which had already set up a fund for children of food service workers who were killed in the towers.
Since this was a 'democracy of photographs', everyone was allowed to donate their pictures. This created a greater workflow and a lot of redundancy. It took a significant amount of time to scan and input the images we were receiving. A number of professional picture editors volunteered to sit at tables day in, day out, to manage this process. By the time hiny closed, there were more than 7,000 pictures in the database. Orders for images swelled. A way to deliver them efficiently had to be found; we needed to organize packaging, postage, etc. Someone suggested that we hire a fulfilment agency, but one company I approached actually wanted a fee of $250,000. I said, 'You're crazy. This is a charity!' Someone then recommended that we buy mailing bags in bulk from a wholesale outlet and deliver our packages to the post office around the corner. A human assembly line sealed hundreds of freshly made digital prints, to be posted nightly.
We solved very complicated problems very quickly and on the fly. There were some organizers and leaders; Michael and I were there daily, and Alice and Gilles worked behind the scenes. As students went back to classes, new volunteers came in. There were lawyers, former firefighters, hairdressers, real-estate brokers, accountants, religious camp groups, a few homeless people and many others. Over the course of two years there were hundreds of volunteers. Alongside the community that unselfishly donated imagery, the big credit goes to the volunteers who became staff, and who took charge and used their own initiative to get things done.
A website was needed. My son gathered together a group of techies who were out of work, and they built an interactive, multimedia, pay-on-demand website in about two weeks. It would have cost thousands of dollars to do this work with outside contractors.
We had no business plan for any of this, and what we originally thought would last a few weeks continued for over two years and travelled to more than forty countries in one form or another. It's estimated that 1.5 million people saw the show in New York City alone. There were well over a billion hits on the website. We had very little outside financial support. SVA donated equipment; the Goldsmith Foundation Gave us funds to pay our utilities through the first winter; Target sponsored shows in Minneapolis and Chicago; and a few private individuals donated paper and materials. The real fact is that the enterprise was produced and supported by the sweat equity of remarkable individuals working collectively, producing and selling thousands of prints for $25 a piece.
AM | What do you think is the real significance of the exhibition?
CT | As I've already outlined, a spontaneous, grassroots, collective energy created a place where anybody and everybody could come and metaphorically 'lay a stone at the grave'. It helped people come together, to share their experiences and to mourn. Perhaps the exhibition on Prince Street, and the community it created, helped people to access their feelings in order to cope better with this tragedy. Ultimately, it is a remarkable document of those terrible times. The accumulative meaning of those pictures is yet untold. Even within a single picture by an amateur photographer, something might be discovered years hence that will allow further understanding of the 9/11 tragedies. In the future, the entire collection of images will reveal itself to be a landmark, showing how anybody and everybody expressed themselves through photography.
Once the show got going, there was no stopping it. When the New York Times wrote an article about hiny a few weeks in, it became known worldwide and a destination for anyone in New York, locals and visitors alike. Furthermore, institutions around the globe sought to put on the exhibition in their cities. As a curatorial entity, it was distinct from any that had preceded it: as many as 1,000 images were clipped to wires that stretched across an inelegant space. It was crowded. You could go under the wires or around the wires. No one had to start here and end up there. Everyone became distracted in a good way, meandering wherever their emotions took them. People could move at their own pace, stare, look, talk to a stranger and make out associa-tions between one picture and another, relying on their own interactive agenda. As the pictures were hung a little high, one often had to stretch to see the image, so no viewer remained passive. The show also served the wider community ... not just the elite, nor those who usually visited photographic exhibitions. Sometimes a fire truck would pull up after a wake or a funeral, and those mourning men would pour into the space for further solace. It was simply cathartic.
hiny wasn't only about the attack on the Twin Towers. It was about all tragedies and wanton destruction, man's inhumanity to man. It was apparent to all of us who worked on hiny that many devastating, catastrophic events were happening at the same time. In Africa, more than 3,000 people were dying each week from AIDS. All over the world, all kinds of civil wars and genocide were occurring; they were often forgotten or went virtually unnoticed. We thought that this exhibition would remind people of such horrors and of the fact that we really are all alike, thinking that maybe some spark of enlightenment could come out of it. We had even considered continuing the enterprise in order to mark other tragedies in the same way. That could never have come about, because we didn't have any infrastructure or real money, and the volunteers had to go back to day jobs. Yet in the back of the book that accompanied the exhibition there is an explanation of how to do just that.
I am careful about using the word 'art', but that's what it was: a collective piece of great meaning, creatively wrought out of tragedy. It will endure, since it is well preserved digitally, and duplicate sets of prints are in collections all over the world.
It is a great expression of humanism - a new way to tell a story about a terrible event, empowering everyone to add to the story. It is a great example of how we, as creative interlocutors, can create something of meaning for a massive audience.
AM | What do you feel about subsequent events after 9/11?
CT | Well, I'm a bit sad at this point. As you know, Iraq happened. And then Katrina happened in New Orleans a few years later. Our government failed us. Some 250,000 people never returned to New Orleans. It is estimated that there were 3,000 suicides in later years related to the trauma of the flood. Well-meaning nations got embroiled in cultural clashes throughout the world immediately following 9/11. Even years later, it is hard to estimate how all of that will finally unfold. There has certainly been a lot of unnecessary death and destruction. I think it's significant to note that it took only thirteen months, during the height of the Depression, to build the Empire State Building. Perhaps that was at a time when there really was a can-do spirit in the American psyche. As of now One World Trade Center is still incomplete, and the memorial to 9/11 that will sit at its base is still mired in bureaucratic chaos. In contrast, hiny was up and running in a matter of days, fulfilling the basic needs of a memorial in a remarkably simple way because people worked together democratically to serve each other creatively. Ironically, hiny may have changed how we view violence, but it probably had little effect on the propagation of it.
AM | So the key words seem to be 'democracy' and 'rapidity'. Everything had the same value, printed using the same common denominator?
CT | That's right!
AM | I understand that the venue was crucial, but what happened when the exhibition travelled to a new site? Was hiny transformed into something different?
CT | Well, that's an interesting question. The State Department approached us to do exhibitions in various embassies. We rejected the idea because we thought that the images would inevitably become politicized in that context, and some curators who requested the show even wanted to cherry-pick the images, to showcase the most sensational ones or those taken by the most famous photographers. We rejected all such requests. However, once we set guidelines as to how the show should be displayed (in the same way as on Prince Street: densely hung, on wires, with no names visible), most institutions complied. For example, in the Chicago Cultural Center, the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin, the Corcoran Museum in Washington, D.C., the Louisville, Kentucky Public Library, and the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, more than 1,000 pictures were hung tightly in a manner very reminiscent of the New York show. Thousands of people visited these and other institutions to share their story and to witness others telling it. It's important to note that no institution charged admission. Furthermore, there was no pre-selection of images. And the photos we sent were put randomly in the packing boxes, so that they could not be hung in any prescribed order.
AM | From a curatorial point of view, then, the exhibition was really very avant-garde. While you did some pre-selection, there was really no single curator. Visitors were allowed to select any picture they wanted to purchase. People had a lot of choice, didn't they?
CT | That is correct. We did have to eliminate duplicate types of images, those that simply would not digitize properly and some that were out of context. But we did try to scan at least one image from everyone who offered.
AM | For me, this was the first time I saw an exhibition that was randomly chosen, not based on a hierarchy of images or mounted in a thematic or chronological way. It was as if it deliberately avoided the `right moment' or `right author'. Photography was just photography ... something like Facebook is now. You just have normal streams of images. You just say whether you 'like' or `don't like' a photograph. It generated all kinds of new possibilities in the medium for documenting everyday life. It was social media before we had social media. In Arles in 2011, the exhibition From Here On, conceived by a number of well-known curators, mimicked the same idea.
CT | I think hiny was a precursor to many such assemblages. As I said earlier, it was the synergy in the totality of the images that told the story. Digital media - what I call 'the realm of the circuit' - are invigorating the very idea of storytelling, be it fictional, non-fictional, interactive, interdisciplinary or multimedia. Neither one image nor one photographer could possibly have captured the essence of 9/11. The big issue of creativity in the digital age is not the lionization of an individual photographer or the uniqueness of any one artist. It's the collective talents of many people that are significant. The people who facilitate these collective endeavours are the real creative artists. The genius lies in the collective organization of the enterprise. Again, I call these people creative interlocutors. They allow ideas to flow from many people to one person, from one person to many people, and back again.
This is why I am particularly proud of hiny. A group of energized people enabled the creation of something new, something useful, out of other people's need for expression; they allowed many people to have a voice and a democratically organized outlet. The internet is essentially about just that. That's why, today, social networks are so important. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are some of the most valuable corporations in the world.
There was, and still is, a promise in what I call 'the realm of the circuit' for a type of democratic witness and free sharing of information. Oddly, although hiny was mostly experienced in the real world, it was the product of virtual processes.
AM | Do you think that an event of a different nature from 9/11 could create a similar energy?
CT | Well of course we were in New York and millions of people saw the real event. And millions recorded it. Unfortunately, Ground Zero was a visible locus for the story. It was easy to get to Prince Street and it was reasonably easy to disseminate our idea, because of the density and , immediacy of the city. Nevertheless, now we are witnessing remarkable events through masses of imagery almost every day - the Arab Spring is perhaps the most obvious example to date.
The big problem in the digital world is not the making or finding of imagery but, rather, how that information should be organized and curated. Today more photographs are made in a single day than in the whole of the 19th century! How do you make sense of all that? How do you put it all together? Is there any truth in all that imagery? I often say there is no truth in one picture ... or even 1,000 words. But there is something of value in 1,000 pictures treating the same subject.
AM | Someone has to collect the information, the pictures, the text, what have you. I guess this is where the creative interlocutor comes in.
CT | I think that's right. A system or a collective must have some kind of filter, must select a portion of the whole for 'consumption' at a given point. However, the criteria for that selection must have a degree of accessibility and transparency for the potential audience that will inevi-tability reconfigure whatever is relayed. The real question is 'What is the story?' Throughout history, civilization is always re-creating narratives, both fiction and nonfiction. There is no real journalism anymore - but there is management of information. The pressing concerns are how this is done, who does it, and whom does it serve.
AM | I understand how important it is to investigate the potential of recording everyday life. But I also sometimes find a kind of banality in exhibitions: people documenting the activities of their cat, or showing us what they have eaten for the last thirty days. It is narcissistic and meaningless.
CT | Without context and without management, most of that imagery is boring. That's why we need creative intervention, to help us filter out that bombardment of banality. But the world-view is constantly changing. Since 9/11, technology has evolved radically. Images are delivered, almost in real time, to everybody and anybody. We can put a Gopro camera on a cat - on 1,000 cats - and get a whole new perspective on human behaviour. We are even observed from space. The camera lens is extending the power of the human eye, but are we actually learning more about human nature? Vision is only meaningful when it is interpreted, and allowing for interpretation is a creative act. Any interpretation is always subjective; it will change and be changed.