chapter
30 Pages

Introduction

ByBILL ANTHES

In our age of global media, images are viewed and consumed in the context of other images-in conceptual groupings that direct and shape our reading and understanding. Images in series and sequence proliferate: professional photographers and corporations create and distribute myriad images; the links of vast computer-generated search pages such as Google Images allow Internet users to access digital image after digital image; individual users author photo-blogs, often with hyperlinked or duplicated images. New technologies for storage and retrieval have created a vast archive of photographic images. Many of these new series are non-linear, or user-defined. Grouping photographs in series allows for organization and comparison-powerful tools that allow us to grasp a diversity of information. Grouping individual photographs into series makes possible, for example, the entire discipline of Art History, which posits a linkage between objects as diverse as a Cycladic figurine and Bernini’s statue of David, or the Great Ziggurat of Ur and Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. As Walter Benjamin wrote in his influential essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”:

André Malraux suggested that all the photographs in the world together functioned as a musée imaginaire-a “museum without walls” in which the power of photography gathers and elevates to the status of painting and sculpture a global diversity of functional objects. As Malraux wrote: “A Romanesque crucifix was not regarded by its contemporaries as a work of sculpture; nor Cimabue’s Madonna as a picture. Even Phidias’s Pallas Athene was not, primarily, a statue.”2 Photographs grouped into seriesin a textbook or a digital database-allow students and scholars to make formal, visual comparisons, to posit links, as well as influence and causality across great temporal and geographic distances. Photographs arranged in deliberate sequences direct the viewer to view each image in a specific pattern, and often have a narrative dimension, even if that narrative is oblique or purely poetic. The first narrative sequential photo series illustrating the Lord’s Prayer dated to 1841, and shortly thereafter Henry Peach Robinson produced a four-panel photo-illustration for Little Red Riding Hood.3 A sequence eliminates or compresses the intervals of time or physical distance between exposures. As a viewer, our mind fills in the gap-also known as the gutter-between two images in a sequence. Critic Roland Barthes described a photo sequence as comprising a series of nuclei, which “constitute the real hinge points of the narrative.” “Catalysers”—clues that will link the images-are “nested” in each image.4 Or, as comic artist Scott McCloud explains, sequences make time into space, as individual images made at separate times separated by regular or irregular intervals can be viewed in a single instance, as on one page of a book or one wall of a gallery.5