The book consistsof four sections: the first is snapshot street photography in the 1970s and 1980s; the second is the documentary photos of Bowden, Adelaide during the 1980s; the third is the photos made in Adelaide/Port Adelaide; the fourth are the road trips in the 1980s and 1990s. Each of these sections has a text which deals with the particular aspects of the photographic culture in Australia. The book is constructed from unruly 1980s photographic and text archives; a form of memory work that adopts an interpretive and reconstructive approach to the everyday of the past through a weaving together image and text.
The kaleidoscope of images and text mean that the Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia is an image text that breaks with the modernist type of photo-book, which consists of images with a minimal introductory text. It thereby challenges and resists the modernist dichotomy between image and text. As a composite work The Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia rejects the idea of the literal image — that photographs are a direct, unmediated copy of what they represent—in favour of a historical account of images based in conventionalism ,in which pictures are a complex interplay between visuality, apparatus, institutions, discourse, bodies and figurality. It is a crossover, in that text and image are intricately entangled in a narrative web, work in collaboration, are supplementary, or in tension. They open up a clearing about a particular place though opening up a clearing within a world of a forgotten past. The narrative in the book is reinvented, text and images are combined in weird assemblages, and the reworked pieces of the past have been over layered in some new sense.
The reason for this approach is that I don’t have a clear memory of my photographic past. I can only vaguely recall my thinking about the photographic culture of that period, and I have a slippery awareness of what I was trying to argue in the written material about photography based on what I was then reading. I have to reconstructed or reassembled my experiences from various materials from the archive and library. The result is that the different pieces are gathered into a single context as a visual parataxis.
Photography, archive, text and memory are closely connected. Walter Benjamin showed that modern memory relies on the materiality of the trace, or the visibility of the image. My personal memories of the 1980-1990s are flawed, fragmentary and malleable and they have become foggy, or faded, like old photographs. Many of my experiences and memories have been forgotten, and there are blank years. Memory is selective, elusive, vivid in parts, and open to embellishment as well as loss.
My memory of the 1980-1990s is “archival”, in that it extensively relies on the materiality of the trace and the visibility of both image and text. This process of recuperative memory through returning to the archive is not simply remembering the past – recuperating it – but remembering memory itself, where it appears to have slipped away. The photographic/textual archive filters and mediates what is preserved and recalled. Photography is bound up with the processes of remembering, forgetting and interpreting. We associate photographs with memories; they are the relics of our time. Kodak, for instance, commodified memory in that the snapshots they processed offered consumers the means to preserve their personal memories significant events in their lives.
As with human memory, we can no longer verify the original experience of the photograph, and so the photographs do not enable the past to be truthfully known. If the photos are of a past time, they do not show what happened before and after the shutter closed, or what was outside the frame. Still, the ambiguities in these black and white photos and text are a guard against cultural memory loss, as well as being a step into rethinking a history of the present. They have the power of reactivating sediments of earlier meanings from the past, which then emerge into the present through their affective impact on the viewer.
These archival black and white photos with their transfiguration of the commonplace can help to inform an imagining of different histories to those we have inherited and, hopefully, to interpret alternative futures in the present.