Aline Smithson is an interdisciplinary artist, educator, and editor based in Los Angeles, California. Her practice examines the archetypal foundations of the creative impulse and she uses humor and pathos to explore the performative potential of photography.
Fugue State Revisited, is an on-going exploration of the future legacies of photography, with a focus on the life span of digital files. After the loss of a hard drive that held 20 years of analog scans, I received only half the files back in recovery. The rest of the files were corrupted, each totally unique in how the machine damages and reinterprets the pixels. This alarming result made me begin to consider ever-shifting digital platforms and file formats, and I realized that much of the data we produce today could eventually fall into a black hole of inaccessibility. The Getty Research Institute states, “While you are still able to view family photographs printed over 100 years ago, a CD with digital files on it from only 10 years ago might be unreadable because of rapid changes to software and the devices we use to access digital content.”
As an analog photographer, rather than let the machine have the last word, I have cyanotyped over my damaged digital scans. I use silhouettes of portraits from my archives as a way to conceal and reveal the corruption. By using historical processes to create a physical object, I guarantee that this image will not be lost in the current clash between the digital file and the materiality of a photographic print.
Fugue State Revisited calls attention to the fact that today’s digital files may not retain their original state, or even exist, in the next century. As we are reliant on technology to keep our images intact for future generations, it begs the question, who will maintain our hard drives after we are gone? Will we be able to conserve photographs that speak to family histories? These are important considerations for our visual futures, as we may be leaving behind photographs that will be reimagined by machines.