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Introducing Joy Drury Cox and Roxana Azar

We are pleased to introduce two great artists to the Photo Op crew, Joy Drury Cox and Roxana Azar.  

Joy Drury Cox is an artist living and working in North Carolina. Her work deals with the aesthetics of standardized objects and experiences in everyday life and has been shown in various galleries and contexts from New York to Miami to Paris. Old Man and Sea, her first artist book, was published by Conveyor Editions in 2012. She is a lecturer in Art Department at UNC Chapel Hill.   More about Joy Drury Cox.

Roxana Azar is an artist living and working in Philadelphia, PA. She received a BFA in photography from Tyler School of Art in 2012 and has had her work published in independent art publications such as Mossless, Of the Afternoon, and Beautiful/Decay, and has been featured on various art websites. Her work has been exhibited in Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York.  More about Roxana Azar.
Photo: Joy Drury Cox - Pleased to Meet You, 2013
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What I’m Looking At with Jon Feinstein featuring Ben Alper

In 1977, Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan’s book “Evidence”, a collection of found images from government and medical archives, was one of the first attempts to use vernacular photography to comment on the medium’s ability to communicate truth and objectivity. Over the past few years, artist Ben Alper has taken their practice to new and exciting heights with his tightly curated Tumblr of found snapshots, negatives and various other “author unknown” images he calls “The Archival Impulse.” I caught up with Ben to find out more about the project and his motivations behind it.

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Interview with Ben Alper

1) In three sentences tell me about the Archival Impulse

The Archival Impulse is an online archive dedicated to my ever-growing collection of vernacular photography. Comprised of both prints and scans from large format negatives, this project encompasses everything from personal/domestic images, to commerical still lives, to institutional documentation of technological and scientific experiments and, of course, press photography.  It takes its name from an essay by Hal Foster of almost the same name - An Archival Impulse.

2) What new angle does the Archival impulse add to Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan’s conversation? Is its existence as a Tumblr important? 

Evidence is certainly an influence on both this project and my practice at large. It’s a stunning, strange and prescient book of images that, for me, speaks simultaneously to an optimism of technological expansion and the inherent dehumanization that arises from that process.  The Archival Impulse, while incorporating images with a similar tenor as those in Evidence, is far more broad and inclusive.  I see it as more a macroscopic representation of photographic practices - and one that encompasses a much larger span of time and a greater diversity of photographic and cultural rituals.  Evidence has a narrative specificity, despite its obliqueness at times, while my project has a more stream of consciousness kind of feeling. 

Creating the project as a Tumblr was more a practical decision.  As a largely image based format, Tumblr seemed the appropriate choice.  It also has very intuitive and functional archiving and classification features, which seemed to make sense with an archivally-based  project.

3) Over the past few decades, much of the new found/vernacular work I’m seeing online has felt a bit one-dimmensional and almost “too” accessible, with smart curation being replaced by thinly veiled irony—essentially:  ”Look at this—this is funny”  You’re clearly taking a more layered approach to appropriation and vernacular imagery —what’s motivating you? 

To put it simply, I’ve always been drawn to vernacular photographs.  They embrace and promote the mistake, the happy accident, the idiosyncratic gesture, the ritual, the personal turned cultural.  They are wonderfully strange phantasms that speak a language that is at once familiar to us and almost always clandestine.  For me one of the most powerful things about them is that they operate as a kind of mirror, or Rorschach test perhaps.  We see what we want to see in them and project or own desires, anxieties and histories onto them. The overly saccharine and nostalgic use of vernacular photography in advertising, or as a trendy commodity purchased at a place like Urban Outfitters, simply cheapens the experience by fetishizing them as objects. Ultimately, I have come to connect with vernacular photographs not as images that cumulatively give credence to some “truth” about who we are or what we’ve done as a culture, but rather as fictions enveloped by omission and subjectivity.  And when seen in this way, they’re far more interesting.

4) You mentioned that your source material comes from a range of places—Ebay, Thrift stores, etc.  Is where you find them important to the project? 

Most of them were found at a few thrift/junk stores in New York, but I’m always on the lookout for photographs when I travel.  Of late, I’ve been buying some lots of older press negatives on Ebay.  Where I find them is not particularly important to me.  However, I do love to sift through a huge pile of photos at a junk store.  The thrill of the search is definitely a thing for me.

5) You started this project a couple years ago, then stopped for nearly a year, and then relaunched it. Why now? what’s driving its new life? 

I simply couldn’t find the time to dedicate to it so I put it on the back burner.  Recently though, I’ve acquired some really amazing 4 x 5” negatives that I felt compelled to share.  The simple act of being excited about them was enough to reinstate the project.  I’m going to try to be more disciplined and regular with the posting.

6) I think it would be limiting to refer to this as a purely “curatorial” project as it ties pretty closely into your own photographic practice. Can you talk about this relates to your own work as a photographer?

Yes, I see this project as an extension of my practice at large, in that many of my previous series’ have addressed, or directly sourced, the same kind of vernacular imagery.  There has been an archeological/archivist component to my process for some time now, so The Archival Impulse is simply a different manifestation of this tendency toward collecting and classifying.  Where the distinction exists though is in mediated vs. unmediated dichotomy between my personal photographic projects and The Archival Impulse.  The images posted as part of this collection are shown as is – there is almost no intervention into the image, aside from their translation from physical prints to digital files.  Both my personal projects and The Archival Impulse both engage in a process decontextualization though, so in some ways I see them as very closely related.