Damage Done
2005 • page 1 of 4


(click on images to enlarge)

1. installation view

2. installation view

3. installation view

4. installation view

5. defunct hard drives

6. defunct hard drives

installation views

Project description • Damage Done

The curatorial project, Damage Done, considered various ways in which artists have engaged with the idea of the vulnerability of photographic materials (including negatives). The damaging, decay or even outright destruction of these materials brings a range of responses, often curiously ambivalent, from society at large. While the making of photographs has become a naturalized part of contemporary life and a subject of much academic research and discussion, the question of the ease with which those images can be lost and our attitudes towards such loss, is less explored. Our response to the potential destruction of our images seems to not always equate with the value that we purport to place on them. Perhaps it is the ubiquitous and complex nature of photography’s presence in our world that leads to a corresponding complexity and unpredictability in our response to its threatened or actual destruction. The artists exhibited in Damage Done have all raised questions, sometimes inadvertently, about what the fragility of our images might mean to us.

In this sense, the exhibition was meant to focus our attention not so much on photography's presence but on the potential for its absence. There is a certain irony in this position as one of the principal reasons people turn to photography is often to allay the fear of loss. The concentration on silver-based photographic materials in this exhibition is intentional and reflects certain conditions currently manifesting themselves in the world of the photographic image.



The advent of digital imaging, while holding out the utopian promise of an endless “migration” of images from one (soon-to-be obsolete) format to another, in fact does not guarantee the conservation of pre-digital photographic images at all. As with all technologies, its usefulness depends upon decisions and actions undertaken by specific individuals under specific circumstances. If anything, the silver-based photographic “trace” is ever more vulnerable as it is made to seem anachronistic in a marketplace driven by a positivist belief in technological advancement. At this very moment decisions are being made about which silver-based photographs to “save” to digital formats in situations ranging from family albums to art school slide libraries to public museum photography archives. A massive edit of the world’s silver-based images is currently underway. As Walter Benjamin famously said, those images not recognized by us in our time as our own are doomed to oblivion. Oblivion – meaning out of sight and out of mind - then sets the stage for the possibility of decay and ultimate disappearance.

Artists included in Damage Done: Patrick Altman, Thomas Barrow, Max Dean, Jennifer Givogue, Fiona McLaughlin and Brett Weston.


Damage Done was shown at Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art, Toronto, in May/June 2005.

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