Off White On Off White

Off white on off white is an experimental video made of purchased stock videos, an original voice over and downloaded sound effects; it explores the function and systematic approach to the use of stock images, their lack of narrative, and technology’s role in the construction of memories, personal histories and experience.

The digital archive of stock images is a structure that is internally divided with walls of coding, algorithms and key words. Due to its categorization and development, it prevents narrative, which, I argue, contradicts the original purpose of the archive’s goal of historical contextualization.

The word archive, according to Jacques Derrida, comes from the Greek word Arkheion, which means: a house; a domicile; an address; the residence of the superior magistrates, and the archons, those who work for them. The citizens who held and signified political power, he said, were considered to possess the right to make or represent the law. On account of their publicly recognized authority, it is at their home, in that place which is their house (private house, family house or employee’s house), that official documents were filed. The archons were first of all the documents’ guardians. They did not only ensure the physical security of what is deposited and substrate; they have the power to interpret the archives. Entrusted to such archons, these documents in effect state the law: they recall the law and call on or impose the law. Even in their guardianship or their hermeneutic tradition, the archives could neither do without substrate, nor without residence.

As times changed, so too did the structure of the archive. Many, though not all, archives have been digitized to allow for more viewership. (1) In Off White On Off White this non-space is represented by the color white, an aesthetic that is so frequently used in the stock image vernacular of de-contextualized backgrounds. It can be argued that the passage from a private house or dwelling into a democratic space such as the Internet would establish more transparency within the interpretation of the archive. It could be characterized as being non-secretive and de-classified (an interesting word to use considering every document or image that is housed in an archive, whether tangible or digital, is classified by a number, not unlike a prisoner).

Though I agree with Walter Benjamin’s claim that the reproducibility of artistic material establishes a more desirable (and in a sense democratic) viewership, there is still a power structure in place in place that is not unlike the Greek magistrates. The power of the viewing and filtering of these digital images is in the hands of the corporations who purchase, sell and organize material based on their own codes and laws, which are often times heavily detailed with words and clauses that only the privileged could understand and afford to buy into.

The primitive archive was created as a way to house material that, when combined, gives a cumulative understanding of a single focus. The stock image archive, however, has no such cumulative effect. Rather, the sole reason for the material’s admittance into the archive is based on the medium, whether they fit into the organization’s needs and its availability for use upon purchase.  This, then, does not create a fuller understanding of anything, other than the complexity of copyright, ownership and image usage. In fact, the stock image archive allows us to remove ourselves even further from the original source. It compartmentalizes our world, making it easier to rely on other people’s labor. I do not want to sound naive in my explanation of the contemporary image archive. I am aware that the intent of the few billion-dollar corporations that own these stock sites is to sell images primarily for marketing and advertising use. Their intent is not to create a history. They are not historians, nor do they claim to be.

 My goal for this video is to show the illusion of the archive as an instrument of truth. By imposing a sequence and narration, the material can be turned into any story that the archivist chooses. This narrative, for example, doesn’t chronicle a history, but rather a fictionalized post-technological future, in which the protagonist struggles with her desire for memories.