Archive Composite Experiments

The two essays we are asked to read for project 4, John Fontcuberta: ‘Why do we call it love when we mean sex?’, and, Nina Lager Vestberg: ‘The photographic image in digital archives’, both discuss ideas and concerns around the archive. Both of these papers started me thinking about my own archive and using this as a possible resource for future work. With working towards assignment 1 in mind, I began to consider if this was a possible route to take – the brief requires composites to be made based on our immediate surroundings and I have hundreds of images that could show how certain parts of my local area have changed over time.

The first images I thought about were those taken for my Documentary assignment 5. This series was concerned with living in a post industrial area that had been built on coal mining. I photographed areas where there had previously been pits, old images of these sites fired my imagination as in them I recognised my familiarity with the areas, and yet, the sight of the collieries was also completely alien. Using these images as source material, I experimented with compositing them together:

Morrison Colliery:

Out of all the vintage images I happened upon for this project, this was one that resonated the most as the road is pretty much the same 100 years later. First, I layered one image over the other before masking vertical slices to reveal parts of each image. This was similar to a technique I had tried in previous experiments.

Neither of these images really work as it is difficult to make out either of the scenes – not something that necessarily is a problem, but something that I instinctively feel does not work here.

Next, I tried aligning the old image over the contemporary picture and blend them together using a layer mask.

The paths match exactly here and the images fit together well. Getting the balance between the two images is difficult, I tried converting the contemporary picture to black and white but this just made them both too similar to be differentiated. I have tried to minimise the halo effect around the blending of the towers, I have perhaps gone too far with this however.

Morrison Busty:

I applied the same blending technique to these next two images. Although to my eye these are identifiably the same place, they are less aligned than the first image so do not work as well together.

I am not sure if this is a technique or direction I would like to pursue further. This sort of layering of old and new images is something I have seen regularly applied, predominately on local history Facebook pages, and it is potentially my snobbishness that is clouding my judgement here. I wonder if there is mileage in applying this to different images, I do not usually have a problem with abstraction and it is perhaps my attachment to these images, having spent an extended amount of time considering them, that leads me to reject the ‘slice’ technique. I wonder how I would feel about this with images that I am not so attached to?


Fontcuberta, J. (2014) Why do we call it love when we mean sex? in pp. 183-188: Fontcuberta, J. (2014) Pandora’s camera: photogr@phy after photography. London: MACK

Vesteberg, N. The photographic image in the digital archives in Lister in pp.113-30: Lister, M. (ed.) (2013) The photographic image in digital culture. Abingdon: Routledge