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Beyond Facsimile: The haptic photobook as a distributed archive

This book chapter explores the re-materialising of recent and archive photographs as tactile book forms that challenge our notions of the past and the present; public and private and the original and the copy. Investigating non-codex books with particular attention on the disruptive sequencing, outlining the dossier form for developing intertextual associations.

The output is a book chapter underpinned by a practice of artist’s book production exploring the printed photograph. My research is situated in the expanded field of photography and publishing as arts practice together with artists such as Erik van der Weijde, Céline Duval and Antony Cairns.

The aim of my research is to show how the materiality of the photographic print and experimental photo-reprography in the book form can engage with notions of touch, exploring a haptic, tacit knowledge that is unavailable from viewing alone. Our visual literacy is developed using the traditions of ocularcentric formalism and semiotic deconstruction, but as Michel Serres suggests, ‘the eye has no weight to impose, it imprints nothing. On the subject’s front line is the skin.’ I assert we conceptualise touch through the material elements of a book triggering intertextual responses in the reader. While we can deconstruct the formal, visual and conceptual properties of a book and speculate on intended and unintended narratives within it – a syntax for handling is missing.

The methods I have employed in my research include iterative studio enquiry developing prototype photographic prints using unconventional materials and shape. In addition, I have explored the non-codex sequencing potential of the dossier book form as a kind of distributed archive.

The research insights I have gleaned is that books which explore the materiality of the printed photograph with disruptive binding and sequencing prompts the reader to navigate a journey of speculation. Disrupting the reader’s expectations of a facsimile, the dossier promotes a type of tacit, haptic knowledge, setting the reader as an active participant in the work.

My written and practice-based research has been disseminated nationally as a book chapter; a conference presentation; a visual contribution to a symposium; a paper in a peer-reviewed journal and exhibition.

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