A journey through American photo archives in five books

We have selected five very recent publications from photo archives, which are increasingly becoming an invaluable iconographic source for contemporary publishing.

In the beginning it was probably Vivian Maier. After her now famous case, enthusiasts, scholars and above all publishers have increasingly gone in search of new versions of this success story or have at least begun to dust off more or less easily accessible archives. A fashion? Certainly a strong trend, not new but growing in recent years. It is not so much the recovery of the vernacular or the revival of that uncontrollable visual cauldron represented by the internet, we are not talking about the standard bearers of photography without a camera such as Joachim Schmidt, Erik Kessels or Thomas Mailander, but neither are we talking about the theorists of the iconosphere such as Joan Fontcuberta. And, paradoxically, it is not even — or not only — a matter of a more understandable commercial operation, but — also — of something more subtle and profound, perhaps linked precisely to the uncontrollable fluidity that now runs through any field of cultural production with an iconographic matrix.

The most emblematic cases are probably the re–edition of Aby Warburg's legendary Bilderatlas Mnemonsine, essentially an analogue ancestor of an image search engine, and Day Sleepers, where the artist Sam Contis has recontextualised some of Dorothea Lange's lesser–known images in a new narrative without dates or captions, thus offering a new and more contemporary interpretation of a classic of photography. But other examples — we have selected five in the photo gallery, all with an American slant — lead us to suspect how much a past that is partly consolatory and partly provocative can today offer refuge from that “fury of images” (to return to Fontcuberta) which is ultimately the mirror of a restless and elusive present.

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