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The internet and digitisation has allowed greater access to photographic archives than ever before. For example the Rijkmuseum in Amsterdam (Rijkmuseum, s.d) offer an extensive online version of their collections including photographs (Rijkmuseum, s.d 2). However, it is worth keeping in mind when considering using such archives that:

Digitisation is not a neutral act and the decision to allow open access to digital documents involves a highly complex interaction of sociological, cultural, legal, ethical and economic issues, many of which act against each other (Galvin, 2013).

For example, ethical considerations constrain the Imperial War Museum in placing photographic material online (Galvin, 2013); the researcher working on the George Rodger archive (George Rodger Photographs, s.d) was aware of the ethical considerations:

“The beauty of a physical archive, like George Rodger’s, is that you can sit there for days looking through all sorts of material trying to make sense of it.” Of course, she [Kate Green] is also aware that some of it is personal and not there for sharing, especially online. Yet letters to other founding members of Magnum, including Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson, offer a fascinating insight (Coomes, 2014).

The legal and copyright issues surrounding the use of material in an archive can be complex. For example:

… in the UK and Europe … photographic reproductions of artwork have their own copyright. This is not the case in the US following the … legal case that ruled that exact photographic copies of artworks in the public domain could not be protected by copyright in the States (Galvin, 2013).

In conclusion, the internet and digitisation makes accessible enormous amount of archival photographic material. One of the ways that postmodernism impacted on art photography was the practice of image appropriation i.e. removing images from their original context and presenting them in the gallery space (Bright, 2005:13).  Among the artists following such practice are Barbara Kruger (b. 1945), Richard Prince (b. 1949), Sherrie Levine (b. 1947), Martha Rosler (1943) and Cindy Sherman (b. 1954) (Bright, 2005:13). In the case of Barbara Kruger, in 1981 she appropriated:

black and white photos that had been cropped and enlarged from different media images (often pictures from the 1940s and 1950s) and combined with strident statements or phrases, all typeset in Futura Bold italic. Her work confronted the stereotypes and clichés of power, sexuality and representation abundant in the dated images she appropriated from popular mass culture (Durden, 2014).

The postmodern practice of appropriation lends itself to the exploitation of photographic archives in order to use the historical to express visually an aspect of the present or to observe that some aspect of humanity is in fact timeless and universal.

References

Bright, Susan (2005) Art Photography Now. London, Thames & Hudson

Durden, Mark (2014) Photography Today. New York: Phaidon

Galvin, Nick (2013) ‘Free for All’ In: Source 76 pp.10-13

George Rodger Photographs (s.d) George Rodger Photographs At: http://www.georgerodgerphotographs.com/ (Accessed on: 26.05.15)

Rijkmuseum (s.d) Rijkmuseum At: https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/ (Accessed on: 26.05.15)

Rijkmuseum (s.d 2) Photographs At: https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/explore-the-collection/works-of-art/photographs (Accessed on: 26.05.15)

Coomes, Phil (2014)  Exploring the George Rodger archive. At: http://www.bbc.com/news/in-pictures-27550098 (Accessed on: 26.05.15)

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