Bank of Nature

Bank of Nature is a large Diasec-mounted photograph representing a grid of 'concepts' found in a promotional brochure for Getty Images elucidating the process for localizing an image in their gigantic database.

In 1859, Oliver Wendell Holmes published The Stereoscope and the Stereograph, a foundational text in which he speculated on the future of photography, “where form is henceforth divorced from matter”, and to the possibility of creating an “enormous collection of forms that will have to be classified and arranged in vast libraries, as books are now”. This symbolic exchange, his postulate of the equivalency of text and image where “the morphotype, or form-print, must hereafter take its place by the side of the logotype or word-print” becomes even more fluid in the fiduciary metaphor of his encyclopedic visual archive. “There must be arranged a comprehensive system of exchanges, so that there may grow up something like a universal currency of these bank-notes, or promises to pay in solid substance, which the sun has engraved for the great Bank of Nature.”

The image banks of today, in much the same way as their historical ancestors, the stereographic societies, are confronted with the main stumbling block of the archival paradigm, retrieval. The polysemic potential of photographs is in direct conflict with the organisation of these vast corpuses. Text is used as an instrument to pin down meanings, to organize and classify images in myriad typologies of abstract concepts. The vocabulary used in the automation of this mnemonic process sheds glimpses onto a highly rationalized world view, a consumer universe of values and emotions, a horizon of invaluable signs of unlimited transaction.

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  • Private collection, Paris
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