Social Media

photo-eye Book Reviews: Amc2 Journal

Amc2 Journal. Edited by Archive of Modern Conflict.
Published by Archive of Modern Conflict, 2012.
Amc2 Journal
Reviewed by Sarah Bradley

Amc2 Journal Edited by Archive of Modern Conflict
Archive of Modern Conflict, 2012. Softcover. 152 pp., black & white and color illustrations throughout, 8-1/4x11-1/2".

I've been a bit enamored with the publications of the Archive of Modern Conflict since Nein, Onkle first appeared on my desk for cataloguing several years ago. The mystery of the organization and the assuredly vast richness of their collection are intriguing. Initiated as an archive of vernacular photographs made during wartime to exposes realities beyond the front lines, AMC was soon confronted with irresistible potential acquisitions that fell outside their purview. So the collection expanded. AMC is now home to an ever-growing assortment of rare photographic documents and ephemera, selections from which occasionally become books. With the publication of their new Amc2 Journal, the true diversity of the archive is coming to light.

Collecting materials ranging from Rock Hudson paper dolls to hand-tinted WWI-era photographs of gruesome head wounds, cigarette cards, photographic documents of a man who was born a woman, images of famed luchador El Santo, 2011 street photography, 19th century French pornography and diagrams and photographs of a forgotten man's time machine, the contents defy any likening classification beyond their status as fascinating objects. Some, like the beguiling assortment of early 20th century over-painted photographs from India, are accompanied by an essay, but most are only given explanation though captions. Others, like the strange and increasingly kinky 1960s images from the Royal Horse Artillery, beg more than their scant description. The essays are informative and thoughtful without liberating the materials of their intrigue, and like all of AMC's publications, the design and printing are fantastic. Though self-categorized as a journal, it feels more like an anthology than a magazine. It isn't a timely publication, which keeps it from becoming the very thing it catalogues. Perhaps the title is most applicable to it being serial in nature; new issues are promised on an "occasional basis."

Amc2 Journal, by Archive of Modern Conflict. Published by Archive of Modern Conflict, 2012.
Amc2 Journal, by Archive of Modern Conflict. Published by Archive of Modern Conflict, 2012.
The prevalence of vernacular and ephemeral material in contemporary art could make Amc2 Journal appear unremarkable, yet it stands out. Amc2 Journal should not be confused with an art project; the archive's endeavors are more aptly described as an exercise in curation. Preserving materials with the ambition of "reveal[ing] unexpected stories about the nature of our world" and "illuminat[ing] lost corners of our cultural life," an archive, AMC, is just the organization to be bringing us these documents. While their offerings are consistently objects of beauty appealing to an artistic audience, the books are presented outside of the shadow of artist's intention with a tone that is neither pretentious nor precious.

Amc2 Journal, by Archive of Modern Conflict. Published by Archive of Modern Conflict, 2012.
Amc2 Journal, by Archive of Modern Conflict. Published by Archive of Modern Conflict, 2012.
Having looked through the images collected in Amc2 Journal several times, I took it to the bar to read the text. It caught a lot of eyes. The resurgence of this type of material in contemporary life does not seem accidental. We live in a world that moves fast and leaves few tactile artifacts. In his 2010 essay for issue #26 of GUP Magazine, vernacular photography collector and publisher Erik Kessels theorized that the perfection of the digital age, one in which any image can be rendered 'perfect' with the use of Photoshop, has awoken a desire for authenticity, the imperfections of the light leak, the tell-tale graininess of film. The popularity of Instagram which transforms the look of digital photographs into something straight out of a 1970s photo album lends weight to this idea, but I believe our sudden fondness for these materials goes beyond that. With the democratization of media has come a multitude of platforms to publicly tell one's personal story, shaping us into a culture that is used to snooping, used to knowing everyone's business. Photographs that were once occupants of private albums are accessible to the world, and the cliché of being victim to a friend's agonizing vacation slideshow has been completely turned on its head -- we now seek these images out. We seek out these older documents, too, our interest in the lives of our contemporaries has extended to the lives of those who came before us. The internet has made us consumers of personal and cultural histories, perhaps bringing about a subconscious cultural awareness of the social history lost with these vanishing tangible documents that help contextualize daily life of the past. Vernacular photography and ephemera are incidental history lessons; they pique curiosity and inspire a nuanced understanding of our world. AMC is doing important work.—SARAH BRADLEY

purchase book

SARAH BRADLEY is a writer, sculptor, costumer and general maker of things currently living in Santa Fe, NM. Some of her work can be seen on her occasionally updated blog. She has been employed by photo-eye since 2008.