This is a guest post by Ed Kashi, a widely celebrated and published photojournalist, based in New York. He is now represented by VII. Ed Kashi is also a filmmaker and educator dedicated to documenting the social and political issues that define our times. A sensitive eye and an intimate relationship to his subjects are the signatures of his work. Kashi’s complex imagery has been recognized for its compelling rendering of the human condition. In 2002, Kashi and his wife, writer / filmmaker Julie Winokur, founded Talking Eyes Media. The non-profit company has produced numerous short films and multimedia pieces that explore significant social issues.
As a photographer, my archive houses many of my memories and the personal experiences attached to the creation of those photographs. Over time I have come to appreciate the value of my archive as something more than a simple repository of those images and associated memories. This growing, thriving and continually evolving organism has become a living library with untold value. By value I’m not speaking about the monetary potential, which is important and vital, but to the greater meanings, connections and possibilities of interpretation that it offers. In a sense, my library of images, made over a nearly 30-year period, offers an opportunity for further explorations into my work and who I am.
Over time, as one accumulates many thousands and even hundreds of thousands of photographs, your archive becomes more than the individual images and stories, instead forming a whole larger than its parts. In looking over your work, the images start to have meaning and connections amongst themselves that you can’t necessarily recognize in the moment, or when you’re editing for purpose. Patterns of style, theme, issue, geography, mood, design, etc. begin to emerge and with them great potential for discovery. Images are not just historical record, but also a record of your growth as a photographer and as a human being. It’s a rewarding practice whether you’ve been photographing for a few years or a few decades, to use your archive as a tool to make these new discoveries. And even though this journey through your photographic past and present might prove disappointing at times, revealing weaknesses or blind spots, you can still gain valuable and rich insights. It’s always hardest to examine yourself closely but when you allow for vulnerability, many powerful and rewarding epiphanies are sure to come.
Even though this journey through your photographic past and present might prove disappointing at times, revealing weaknesses or blind spots, you can still gain valuable and rich insights.
It is in this spirit that I have begun yet another exhumation of my archives. I thrive on collaboration, having another set of eyes, another heart and mind to make new discoveries about my own creations. My collaborator in this project is Alison Shuman, a New York-based photographer who assists me part-time in my studio. She has been combing through my files and forming an edit of single images that we have missed in previous reviews, or that feel like discoveries through the prism of this moment. On a weekly basis for the coming months we will create a blog post featuring an image from my archive presented together with her thoughts and comments. I have always found it exciting to encourage someone I trust to review my work, which often leads to additional insight. After all, that is one of the joys about working with great editors and art directors. Alison is a thoughtful, articulate and strong writer. So far in the blogging and social networking she has done to support our efforts in the self-dissemination of my work, ideas, causes, issues and point of view, she has brought a fresh, smart and insightful voice.
In conclusion, the moral of the story here is (because there’s always a moral with me, much to the dismay of my kids), be good to your archive. There’s immense value in looking back while always moving forward. But you can only do this effectively if your archive makes sense to not only you, is searchable and organized in a way that anyone can find all your images and understand their context. Otherwise you’ve failed yourself. This means creating great captions, keywords and the other information we now call metadata. In this manner, you won’t lose the potential for deeper discoveries and hidden joys that your work may contain. It’s crucial from an early point in your photographic life to take care of your photos and archive them carefully. Keep notes. Be organized and respect your work. And who knows what kinds of discoveries you’ll make as you build and grow your photography.
Tell us – Do you have a photographic archive? How well is it organized? How often do you dig back into it to see what you have done in the past? Is it easier or more difficult to do with digital files? If you have comments about Ed’s article above, please pen your thoughts below so that we may learn more about your “best practices.”