A·kin looks at how photographic archives and family albums are seen and categorised by humans and machine vision systems. The project highlights the difficulties to grasp anthropological, historical and cultural notions about personal and collective identity when considering photographs as mere data points.
The work is created using my personal family photographs from Tamil Nadu, as well as images from the Studies in Tamil Studio Archives and Society (stars.archive) Archive, a collection which investigates the history of South Indian studio photography between the 1880s and the 1980s. The installation includes groupings of photographs organized first by an image classification model (VGG16) and then further by my intuition. Each group is represented by a central node image, a composite averaging all of the images within the cluster. At the centre of the wall a video includes oral interviews with family members reflecting on the photographs, and S.T.A.R.S. Archive researchers sharing insights on the particularities of eastern studio archives and family albums in relationship with the western view. On the opposite wall are six gold risograph prints on black paper, each showcasing a composite image from a cluster. Along with the physical installation, I've created a new digital commission (https://unthinking.photography/projects/akin/'). The interactive website invites visitors to pull apart each of the photographs included on the composites. Through this process, the provenance and protagonists of each image are revealed, along with other anthropological and cultural indicators. The contextualising information offers further understanding about the historically shifting notions of individual and collective representation within colonial and post-colonial contexts.
Studies in Tamil Studio Archives and Society(stars.archive) is a multidisciplinary research collective which aims to investigate the history of Tamil studio photography between the 1880s and the 1980s as well as to protect and promote the rich and vulnerable productions photographic productions.
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