The Subjectivity of the Archive
The Archive’s materials are protected fragments that represent past events, they do not provide comprehensive information as they rely on human interpretation, association and memory. How is the authenticity of the photograph confirmed and controlled by the Archive and how does this vary between institutions? We see this quite clearly even between the three collection houses that we have worked with throughout this research project. For example, The National Photographic Archive is a formal state institution that has standard operational procedures to catalogue and formalise their collections compared to Belfast Exposed who take a more casual approach and base their information and trust on the knowledge of the community. Questions that have risen and that are needing consideration when thinking about the presence of the LGBT community in the archive are; How does photography serve to establish and normalise existing power relationships, how does the archive serve as the voice of power whilst simultaneously claiming to embody a token of exchange between partners?
In the archive meaning is not fixed and can be subject to change over a period of time even the passing of ownership makes them vulnerable to new interpretations and connotations being attached to them. Since the early twentieth-century, popular histories have relied increasingly on photographic reproduction e.g. the school textbook. The appearance of the past is preserved, valued and reproduced as a result of human interpretation. Allan Sekula seeks to raise awareness of such institutions as information is, in fact, a result of a chain of human selection and manipulation. The existence of an archive often blurs the fact that photographs contain an interpretation rather than a representation of reality due to their organised and catalogued nature.
A Queer Reading
Researching the queer archive is a process of revealing that which has evaded the normalizing constraints of society. The process is an attempt to render a coherent legibility from a multiplex of source documents and ephemera, possibly collected by a passionate amateur (a description itself that signals queer, in that the amateur doesn’t obey the conventional work clock and is not motivated by orthodox incentives- such as The Arthur Leahy Collection). This source material stems from the lives, emotions, traumas and joys of individuals, it is important that it retains significance when it encounters the organizing, sorting and neutralizing principles of the archive.