The Personal Archive in the Digital Age

Since the mid-twentieth century, there has been an intense interest in personal archives in the reconstruction of history. This attitude has survived, if not increased, in the transition from analogic to digital: this has led to the study by researchers and scientists and the preservation of personal archives, not only of influential figures but also of ordinary citizens.

The study of archives has enriched History with details and nuances that otherwise would not have been captured.

In the last three decades, digital revolution has completely transformed society and the world of photography. The digital turn has made analogic photography obsolete by turning it into a hobby or niche practice.

One of the typical features of contemporary personal archives is their extremely heterogeneous composition, mirroring the multiplication of forms of expression and recording of evidence of activities and creativity.

In its original historical form, photography constitutes a direct and immediate link to the past. The digital turn has also marked a major shift not only in the practices related to its production and circulation, but also in those related to its archiving, bringing about an evolution in the very concept of memory. From memory associated with the materiality of physical objects and places to memory understood as narrative and network of technological relationships.

Digitization, the result of a post-modern liquid society, has profoundly changed the relationship of image-makers with their photographic archives.

The watchword is sharing: images are produced in huge quantities and shared on social networks. This custom leads to inevitable critical issues.

First, the enormous production of images, which can be traced back to the spread of smartphones and social networks, makes it unmanageable to store such a large amount of material. The technological limitations of storage media, destined for obsolescence, force us to wonder what will remain of these personal archives.

In addition, the haphazard accumulation of photographs without an archival criterion creates an archive lacking order and leads to a tendency for unnecessary dispersion and duplication of material in fear of losing it.

This fragmentation results in a blurring of the traditional unity and organicity of the archive.

A further critical element is the lack of sorting and discarding operations, a fundamental activity in the creation of an organic archive.

From these perplexities of comes the conclusion that in the digital age the archive must be understood in the generic sense of a documentary aggregation endowed with some more or less recognizable identity.

Can the personal archive therefore have a space of historical and artistic value in contemporary society?

Family photo archives can take a leading role with respect to public history practices due to their extreme ubiquity within society, high degree of public engagement, and technological development.

The themes that family photography normally focuses on are related to the documentation of life stages, which stimulate an emotional and personal approach to history and memory, grafting significant identity processes.

The development of technology provides users with several simple but effective storytelling tools that enable people to experience “history from below.”

Finally, the use of smartphones implies the centrality of interaction between users and institutions and the possibility of sharing their images with an extensive community.

These processes need to be guided by the public historian, an institution that guides and directs archiving, which becomes a guarantee for a truly effective narrative that is not influenced by the emotionality or aesthetics of the images. Only in this way can we arrive at a narrative that is truly shared not only for the public but with the public and methodologically correct.

In conclusion, we can see how the discipline of archives reflects the multilevel society in which we live: the technological possibility allows the public to access the production and preservation of many images, but those that have or will have real historical value are very few. That value is provided by the organic nature of the collection and not by the quality of the individual image.

Social networks become a sort of personal archives, not useful for the purpose of building a collective memory as in the past, but representation of a personal memory aimed at telling, in a self-celebratory way, personal stories.

%d bloggers like this: