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Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Archive of Modern Conflict @Paris Photo 2012

A Cyanotype plant study. The world record parachute jump from 1932. Rooftops in St. Petersberg, Scott’s Terra Nova expedition. A West African king. Cumulus humiliis. An abstract composition. A Kominka dancer. An observatory. Another plant study. These are just a handful of the prints that were showcased in ‘Collected Shadows’ – a stunning exhibition from the Archive of Modern Conflict at this year’s Paris Photo.


Deftly assembled by curator Timothy Prus, the show was a gloriously eclectic jamboree that displayed all manner of photography's styles, periods and ends. Spanning works from 1850 to the present day by both anonymous and name photographers including Gustave Le Gray, Robert Frank, Bertha Jaques, Josef Sudek and Willi Ruge, and arranged in sections according to themes of earth, fire, air, water and ether, 'Collected Shadows' was richly satisfying and undoubtedly the most talked about booth at the fair.

Below is a video interview (produced by The Art Newspaper), the first half of which features Prus discussing how the archive has grown and the ideas behind the installation. It's a revealing, albeit brief, insight into the quirky mind of the collector known for his penchant for photographic oddities of the past. He is clearly as fascinated by the magic of photography as he is by the mysteries of life. After all, the collecting style is freighted with an acute awareness of the tendency for people to crow over the misery of others and the role images play within that.


The jewel in the crown of the exhibition was the new Bruce Gilden portraits, odd-looking sitters shot mostly on Brick Lane in London, that were hung on the outer wall of the booth. Each photograph was ingeniously paired alongside a historical work such as a wax-paper negative from 1858 showing the garden of a private house in Tehran, for example. Both images on their own were extraordinary, but their combination proved an intoxicating mix.

For those wishing to discover more, the Archive of Modern Conflict has an online shop for its books where you can browse titles from the likes of Stephen Gill and Larry Towell as well as their own fabulous journals. The latest, issue 4, comprises photographs from 'Collected Shadows'. Check out the slideshow of sample images here.