Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Hardcopy Context

This fall I have to move my studio to another building and so the occasion arises to clean up and get rid of a lot of clutter that I gathered over the past 16 years in this building. So all my overdue films are now donated to the HKU, waiting for eager students.

Another idea came into my mind a while ago, when another department on the academy did the same: creating a small, specialized library, just for the department itself. I was immediately fond of the idea and started to collect books and magazines out of my own collection that I was willing to part from and a befriended bookshop antiquarian even found the complete collection of 'Perspectief' magazine, still my favourite magazine from the past.

After a while I started to doubt the whole idea. Is an old-fashioned library with books and magazines still needed in education these days? Why bother with building bookracks and dragging heavy books around when the students can literally find all the images they want on the computer? Why is the idea of a quiet place, with a couch, where students can take a book, sit down and just enjoy the work of great photographers so appealing to me? Oh wait, I think I answered my own question there. Call me old-fashioned, but I think that a place like that should be part of any education. Where the work of the photographer is shown in a way that he wants it to be seen.

Every now and then a student shows me work that they think is great, but when I ask who made it, they start to blush and stammer: 'Oh, uhm, I don't know, I just like the images.' When that happens, I give them my 'completely-baffled-desperate-in-physical-pain look', and strongly ask them to take note next time. But how can they do that? The internet is full of images without context, splattered all over the place. Of course it's key to teach the students how to find meaningful digital sources and how you can search the internet in a contextual way, but the photo book hype is there for a reason: people want to see hardcopy context! And books are expensive too, so why not share?!

Suddenly it was very clear to me and all the doubt was gone: we should have our own library. It's going to be one great experiment, since I'm not going to keep an administration and the student themselves are responsible for the wellbeing of the books. Let's see where this ends! So if you have any books or magazines concerning photography to spare and want to donate, please let me know.
What do you think, is it going to work or not?

Robert Philip is a photographer and course leader at the Utrecht School of the Arts.

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