Science and superstition

Dear Reader,

The following is a faithful inscription of events that have been indelibly stamped upon the writer’s memory…

I had set-about digging out a wooden chest which had then opened to reveal dozens of small yellow or red cardboard boxes that dazzled with their brightness.

Back of photo

Each was inscribed with one of two words in a strange language and script whose meaning I could not grasp. K-o-d-a-k; and A-g-f-a. Looking into each box I could see layers of antique cardboard that each formed the frame of an individual, miniature image-world, dating back to the early 1960’s. Time had eroded the colour index of the transparent pictures, which now bore a pink or red hue. Nevertheless, and despite some exotic oriental scenery and unfamiliar clothing, I was able to recognize the gestures and facial expressions of some of the people in the tiny images as members of my immediate family, not all of whom are living today. All of a sudden, while examining one of the image-worlds, I became aware of a powerful sensation in my chest, that seemed precipitate two rivulets of liquid that ran, quite against my will, down my face at a most inconvenient moment. I was immediately unnerved by the unwanted effects of my research, and unsure as to whether to proceed with my analysis. It occurred to me that the fragile surface could easily become infected and distorted by the salty discharge of my emotions, and on this basis I concluded that it was unsafe for me to continue the close examination of my family archive.


After a long, arduous journey through strange and unfamiliar country, I arrived tired and hungry at the BP archive, located somewhere to the east of darkest Coventry. The purpose of my expedition was to investigate photographic imprints of the British oil corporation in Iran – imprints made over the course of six long and tumultuous decades of the 20th century. These papery resources were rumored to have accumulated in great abundance within the bowels this God-forsaken place, and my naïve plan was to bring them back with me, in order to distill and refine their contents later, through the modern medium of video. As part of my planned method, I had in mind the careful application our great civilization’s most advanced editing technologies, such as the one called Final Cut Pro V7. (However, so restless being the forward march of progress, this will have become obsolete by the time these words reach your ears).

For I had come to believe that traces of the invisible forces that shape our world might be divined from within these colourless parchments. If only these opaque fragments, long-entombed within the shadows of this Imperial citadel could be brought to the surface and allowed to speak. Surely the only challenge, I reasoned, was to navigate a way around the fearsome brutes who guarded the gates of the archive, so that the shades of the past could be illuminated by means of the light cast by modern techniques of vision?

At this time I felt quite certain that rumors of a curse that befalls the media archaeologist who disturbs the sleep of the ancient spirits of the imperial archive, were based on nothing more than the superstition and childlike fears of the primitive mind. With hindsight, I should have known that I would come to regret my arrogance, and rue the fateful day I crossed the threshold of the BP archive and entered that hellish territory of tangled tag words, arbitrary indexing systems and the doomed ‘required fields’ that would recognize none of the terms of my search. I can now see that the true beasts were neither Joanne, Bethan nor Peter the administrators of the BP archive, but rather the invisible designers the archival labyrinth. For above all else, the land of images is one of ghastly ambiguity and undecidability that defies the rational logic of catalogue, database or beastly binaries of Boolean search.

But I digress.

7 SandwichNot long after ingesting some quite tasteless substances that pass as sustenance in those parts, I began to regain my strength. Revitalized, I was ready to begin my field work: an initial survey of the surface strata of the visual archive. Having failed to unlock the code that governs the indexing of images, I was reduced to entering random date and subject terms which precipitated the arrival of a succession of overloaded trolleys each bearing a vast mass of materials, which I would need to appraise individually – like some prospector who is forced to pass great handfuls of compacted earth through the coarse mesh of his sieve in the faint hope of discovering a single speck of gold dust. Undeterred, I decided to adopt as rigorously systematic and scientific approach as possible from here-on-in, and set about meticulously categorizing and colour-coding the contents of various pictorial collections into my graph-paper notebook.


The first remains I unearthed consisted in modes of representation that had the ability to abstract the world into a series of geometric patterns. Both aerial and panoramic records had constructed space in such a way that human beings magically disappeared altogether, while vast mountain or desert-scapes revealed the outlines of their hidden sub-structure, a stratified history of several millennia. In these images, the geometry of pipelines, giant containers and other industrial facilities stood-out like monumental effigies designed for the visual gratification of some fearsome celestial deity. I told myself that these were mere representations, illusions made from traces of silver on paper support. My suspicions were confirmed then and there, that the imperial beings that ruled over the globe were able to do so because in fashioning these paper doubles of the world, they had conjured the power to influence and thus control the original. This dreadful realization chilled me to the bone.