Saturday, 13 October 2012

How Many Words are 10,000 Pictures Worth?

Photographs capture a unique moment in time and provide a still-life of some distant memory, thought, action, event – your brother’s Bar Mitzvah, that time you suggested that Uncle Lou could win in a cage fight – the list goes on. But for some, a photograph is more than just a flash and click; it represents a reflection of one’s character and emotion. As I’ve come to learn over the past month and a half as an intern at the Parkdale Activity and Recreation Centre, a photograph has the capacity to show great wisdom, courage, strength, insurmountable challenges and insufferable pain. For many of the members there, photos are the only evidence they have left of a life once lived and the struggles they are defined by.

The job of a Media Archivist, or so I have come to understand it, would be to find an objective understanding of someone else’s attempt to immortalize something personal. I do not have previous experience at PARC nor have I known any of the members and staff for more than six weeks, but I too feel something stirring deeply as I file through close to 10,000 photographs of people in various stages of physical and mental health. Although it is not clear to me what the significance of the picture is for those involved, I already have a connection with it on a different level because I sense it poignancy to the lives of its subjects.

Book launch for 'Let's face It!'  (Feb 2012)
As it turns out, objectivity here is key as I filter through the more usable photographs for the purpose of incorporating them into art projects led by PARC members. My job moves beyond just sorting and digitizing as I collaborate with Artistic Director Michael Burtt (founder of Making Room Community Arts) to challenge how we will appropriately get these artifacts back in the hands of members who will use them for display in an upcoming open house in December. The goal here is not to merely show and tell a bunch of old photos but make the observer feel what is behind the picture: the individual lives, stories and struggles of Toronto’s most marginalized and stereotyped citizens. Talk about building a ‘living machine’ and showings at art gallery expos have created buzz at PARC, and no one is more nervous about finding the right material than its lone Media Archivist.

Other branching projects that will use PARC photos include a special page on the website ‘The History of Madness in Canada’ and new organizational publishing’s to follow the minor legacies of ‘Kiss Me You Mad Fool’ and ‘Let’s Face It!’.

More details to come as we make ‘progress’ on this project.

Safe Travels,

Aaron Turpin

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