Category Archives: Project 2: The Archive

A5: Project 2: Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunye

Look online at the Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunye series The Fae Richards Photo Archive.

Do you have any archives that you could have access to? Might you be able to use it for the beginnings of a project? Blog about some ideas that you could come back to some day.

Before I started to investigate any archival material I might have at my disposal I wanted to know more about Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunye. I watched a video about The Watermelon Woman on YouTube (1) where Cheryl Dunye talks about why she wanted to make this film. She had watched many films, made in the 1930’s and 40’s but could not find any work about black women. When a black actress acted in a film their names were often omitted from the credits. One film Plantation Memories was about a woman called Watermelon Woman. This film inspired her work – or maybe this is a fictional account of the birth of the work…..

Whatever the truth of the origins of this project  Dunye created a film about an African-American lesbian woman, played by herself, who was working in a video store and researching the life of Fae Richards, a 1930s starlet.

Through the use of photographic and archival conventions Leonard and Dunye successfully borrow from the lives of historical figures to create a believable narrative that opens up questions as to what is left out of the historical record.(2)

Zoe Leonard, a New-York based photographer, created 78 fictional images documenting the life of a fictional actress, Fae Richard’s, life. (3) The work reminded me of that Woody Allen film Sweet and Lowdown which tells the story of a fictional jazz guitarist (9). I remember feeling a little cheated coming out of this film. I had been duped or so I thought. On reflection I began to ask myself why I felt this deception. It was a great film and it mattered not a jot that the main character was fictional – he was a superb jazz guitarist.(4)

So this brings me to the question of my own or someone else’s archives. Do I have any? Well “Yes” and “No” and “Maybe”. I am an inveterate “Life Laundress” I am obsessed with not leaving my children with a pile of material to sort out. Giving their personalities I believe they would chuck it all in the bin.

But I have done extensive research on my family. This is extremely difficult in Ireland where all records before 1864 were destroyed. The record books were sent to the UK to provide paper to help the war effort. Church records do survive but on microfiche. Many of the original books were stored in damp church premises with consequent damage. Some of the church clerks and priests did not have the best handwriting much of which is indecipherable. Some of those responsible for making these records were lazy and did not record many details. But despite all these drawbacks I have obtained exciting glimpses into the lives of my great grandparents.

My great grandfather, John Stephenson, had always been an elusive character. He and my great grandmother, Laetitia Millet, were the parents of seven children, one of whom was my paternal grandfather. The latter gentleman seems to have been a less than responsible parent leaving my father at the age of five, to be reared by his four siblings. But he is of less interest to me than my great grandparents.

On the birth of each of the seven children my great grandfathers occupation seemed to have changed. He went from being a male servant, through a period as a farmer, and this despite living in a tenement in the centre of Dublin. He finally ended up as a ships chandler, with a shop on the quays of the River Liffey in Dublin. But his life does not terminate normally. At least there is no record of when or where he died or indeed where his body was interred.

My great grandmother. Laetitia, was a very formidable woman by all accounts. She had the five of her seven children who predeceased her buried in marked graves. She even had their various spouses also interred in the Stephenson plot. But, alas, her husband John’s death is not recorded anywhere, he just disappeared….

My father always told the story that my great grandmother was French and that he remembered his grandparents speaking French together. The name, Laetitia Millet, is indeed french but, I discovered, his grandparents were dead before he was born……

I believe my great grandmother was an early feminist. On the 1901 Irish census form a widow was instructed to write widow if her husband was dead. My great grandmother wrote “Head of houselhold”. I want to know more about this woman and hope that I survive long enough to complete some research. But even if I don’t I can always construct it….


  1. YouTube. 2016. The Watermelon Woman – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 May 2016].
  2. Archives and Creative Practice. 2016. Zoe Leonard & Cheryl Dunye — Archives and Creative Practice. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 May 2016]
  3. CHERYL DUNYE | Introducing Fae Richards: Excerpts from The Watermelon Woman – GLYPHS | ACTS OF INSCRIPTION. 2016. CHERYL DUNYE | Introducing Fae Richards: Excerpts from The Watermelon Woman – GLYPHS | ACTS OF INSCRIPTION. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 May 2016].
  4. Wikipedia. 2016. Sweet and Lowdown – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 May 2016].



A5: Project 2: Nicky Bird

Question for Seller re-situates images in a different context and in so doing allows for a new dialogue to take place. Reflect on the following in your learning log:
• Does their presence on a gallery wall give these images an elevated status?
• Where does their meaning derive from?
• When they are sold (again on eBay, via auction direct from the gallery) is their value increased by the fact that they’re now ‘art’?

Nicky Bird

One of my fellow students remarked that this was the second body of work by Nicky Bird that he did not buy into. I am not sure we are expected to buy into any of this. I think our work is to try to understand what the artist is trying to say. I think the idea of the project was very original. Bird says that she was motivated by a desire to save these images from being lost to posterity. We only have her word for it.(1)  The original set, an African family,  that she bid for were interesting in themselves. I can understand someone being fascinated by the story behind some of these images. I am always interested to learn more about the history of old buildings. My daughter has just completed the purchase of a house which was built in 1820.  With the house went a ‘potted’ history. The story would be so enhanced by the addition of images. But there are none to our knowledge. I iive in a hundred year old cottage on an island in the south west of Ireland. I would love to know more about the people who lived in this house. Two or three of our island houses come complete with their ghosts. This phenomenon is becoming less common. Are we becoming less ‘aware’ or less in tune with the non-material.

What do we mean by status? One definition I found was:

relative social or professional position: standing

The images have their own social status whether on a gallery wall or not. The fact that Nicky Bird has used them in a professional capacity would give them a professional status.

There are several meanings contained in these images. When they were fist made they had a specific meaning for the individual or individuals in the image. They were a record of some event in the lives of those within. When these individuals were no longer around to cherish these images they were passed on or found by someone who was not part of that meaning. At a later stage the images were offered for sale on eBay. Nicky Bird was the only bidder for the images she included in Question for Seller. The images then took on a whole new meaning. They were part of a new story. From this I would conclude that their meaning derives from how, where and when we view them.

Value depends on what someone is prepared to pay. The moment Nicky Bird purchased each one of these images on eBay they acquired a value. She then worked with the images to create a new narrative giving added value to them. A purchaser would ‘value’ her artistic input and pay what they felt that was worth. Thus the image would indeed increase in value due to Nicky Bird’s input.


  1. photoparley. 2016. Nicky Bird | photoparley. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 May 2016].



A5: Project 2: The Archive: Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin work together frequently. They were born in South Africa but Chanarin was reared in the UK from the age of five. Both work in London now.  They are distant cousins and worked as photographers and directors at Colors Magazine. They have spent more than twenty years investigating the relationship between images, truth and power. They have used photojournalism, work as curators and archives to create their projects. (1)

They founded Chopped Liver Press to print and market their books. They have published about fourteen books and received many awards. Their work has been acquired by many of the big museums and they have exhibited both as solo and in group exhibitions.

They work tirelessly to demonstrate that the viewer of images must always be aware that he or she is being manipulated by many forces. Starting with the photographer and what he ‘chooses’ to include or exclude, followed by the publishers and or editors who bring the material to the public and last but not least the political forces who use and abuse images for their own political ends.

Belfast Exposed was founded in 1983 as a response to concern over the careful control of images depicting British military activity during the Troubles

Whenever an image in this archive was chosen, approved or selected, a blue, red or yellow dot was placed on the surface of the contact sheet as a marker (1)

This archived collection consisted of 14,000 images made by both professional and amateur photographers. The images were written on, cut up or defaced by the subjects themselves or the archivists. These images were used or unused to tell the story the authorities wanted to be told or withheld if they were judged not to uphold a political point of view. Dots were placed, at random, on the negatives or images. Bloomberg and Chanarin decided that what lay under some of these dots created a narrative in itself. These round images were separated from their context but displayed as a group. They told their own story. Some of these images can be see here (2)

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 06.58.41  Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 06.58.26 Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 06.58.14

Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin

My selection further restricts the story…….

One of the duo’s recent projects has them using the London Archive of Modern Warfare to create a version of the King James Holy Bible. In another they were embedded in Afghanistan but instead of taking images of the war they exposed a roll of photographic paper to light, a strip per day. The result shouts louder than any made image, it is the unmade images we have to imagine. This brave work continues. It is educating us not to be ‘taken in’ by images to which we are exposed. Unlike the ridiculuous controvrsey raging about Steve McCurry’s alterations to his images. The alterations appear to me to be harmless even amateurish. (4)


  1. Image, Author, Failure, Chance : BROOMBERG & CHANARIN. 2016.

    Image, Author, Failure, Chance : BROOMBERG & CHANARIN. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 May 2016].

  2. People in Trouble (Dots) : BROOMBERG & CHANARIN. 2016. People in Trouble (Dots) : BROOMBERG & CHANARIN. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 29 May 2016]. Saatchi Gallery. 2016. Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin – Artist’s Profile –
  3. The Saatchi Gallery. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 29 May 2016].
  4. PetaPixel. 2016. Botched Steve McCurry Print Leads to Photoshop Scandal. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 May 2016].
  5. YouTube. 2016. The Watermelon Woman – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 May 2016].
  6. Archives and Creative Practice. 2016. Zoe Leonard & Cheryl Dunye — Archives and Creative Practice. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 May 2016]
  7. CHERYL DUNYE | Introducing Fae Richards: Excerpts from The Watermelon Woman – GLYPHS | ACTS OF INSCRIPTION. 2016. CHERYL DUNYE | Introducing Fae Richards: Excerpts from The Watermelon Woman – GLYPHS | ACTS OF INSCRIPTION. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 May 2016].
  8. Wikipedia. 2016. Sweet and Lowdown – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 May 2016].