5×5: Analog America by Olivia Gilmore

All photographs are momento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt. – Susan Sontag.

American writer Susan Sontag died in New York only seven months before the launch of Facebook in 2004. I often wonder what she would have written, had she been alive to witness a world so enamored with social networking. Known for her preeminent collection of essays, On Photography, Sontag had in fact envisaged a future inundated with lasting images. She for one, was not fond of having her portrait taken; it was violating and objectifying. Sontag was also acutely aware of the power of the image and its iterations through reproduction. What is lost to digital photography in the Internet age, if anything? The number of images, uploaded onto the Internet in one minute, is proliferating; currently it’s thousands.

So… what is lost to digital photography in the Internet age, is authenticity. A friend and I once spoke about the gentrification of New York. In the ’70s he was a regular at a mom-and-pop restaurant under the Williamsburg Bridge, and he would have to climb over the bar to receive his own drinks from the refrigerator. He said, that to him, what is lost in gentrification–certainly after housing–is authenticity. The sincerity of this restaurant, and experiences like his, now gone. An accurate anecdote to parallel the loss of the authentic image in the Internet age. Much of it is: inauthentic, slippery, and not wholly reliable.

The 5 photographs in this 5×5 are analog photographs taken in America. They are by no means quintessentially American, nor are they exemplars of the immense political upheaval and social chaos which occurred in the majority of the 20th century. They are almost placid images of the late 20th century, going into the New Millenium. They are all analog photographs: photographed on film, processed in a dark room, and printed. Now they are digitized and available to the public.

"Boy, Man and Graffiti" (1966)
“Boy, Man and Graffiti” (1966)

 Roy DeCarava was a  born in 1919 in Harlem, New York, and died in 2009, in Brooklyn. He was a freelance editorial photographer, in addition to being an artist. DeCarava and the poet Langston Hughes, collaborated on The Sweet Flypaper of Life, a pictorial fiction based on the lives of people living in Harlem.

Tim Davis, McDonalds 2, Blue Fence, 2001.

Tim Davis is an American photographer and poet, born in 1969 in Malawi. This images is from his series, Retail, which shows American suburbs at night, with reflections of neon advertisements in the windows. “The photographs reveal a subliminal imposition of contemporary consumer culture onto domestic life” (Cotton, The Photograph as Contemporary Art, 2009, p. 43).

Martin Parr, USA. Florida. Hallandale, 1997.

Martin Parr is a British photographer, born in 1952. He is known for his ironic photographs of contemporary life. His images are often tightly cropped: objects and people awkardly juxtaposed in the frame. This image appeared in Parr’s series, USA; one can visualize the body and scene which surround this suntan-oiled-cross.


Untitled (Face in Dirt) 1990_24.75x25.5
David Wojnarowicz, Untitled (Face in Dirt), 1990.

David Wojnarowicz was born in New Jersey in 1954 and died in New York City in 1992, at 37. He was an AIDS activist, especially known for his film, A Fire in My Belly, created for Peter Hujar who died of AIDS in 1987. He appeared in Rosa von Prauheim’s 1989 film, Silence=Death, which was a response to the censorship of his film and the AIDS crisis in the United States. Wojnarowicz is equally known for his portrait with his mouth sewn shut; it was representative of the Silence=Death campaign.

Peter Hujar, Susan Sontag, 1975.
Peter Hujar, Susan Sontag, 1975.

Peter Hujar was also born in New Jersey in 1934, and died of AIDS in 1987, in New York City. He was a colleague, friend, and lover of Wojnarowicz’. He was an active part of the art scene in the 70s, known for his black and white photographs, and particularly for his portrait of Candy Darling on Her Deathbed, 1974. This image of Sontag is one of a few Hujar took of her. Hujar also took Sontag’s portrait for her first book of essays, Against Interpretation (1966), which was a huge success.