by Sophy Rickett and Bettina von Zwehl
Album 31 is a photographic and text based project by Sophy Rickett and Bettina von Zwehl that explores the contingent and mutable process of photographic production, and its interpretation. In an ongoing process, the artists revisit decades of their own 'outbox' material to reconsider the decisions that led to each rejection.
Album 31 is a series of photographic plates (consisting of 4 to 5 images per plate) but also proposes a methodology that privileges the re-contextualisation of material so that any narrative claims to explanation or resolution - whether with a single work or the trajectory of an entire practice – are resisted.
The project began when the artists were invited to respond to the photographic archives held at the Library of Birmingham. Through their engagement with the archives - and specifically the albums compiled by Victorian photographer and parliamentarian Sir Benjamin Stone - they began to develop Album 31 by establishing a set of practical and conceptual principles that allow them to continue their own practices and periodically re-configure them together. They are interested in collaboration as a way of sharing ideas and providing companionship, support, conviviality, but also, one that can bring about tensions, difference, negotiation, and compromise.
Stone gave the name ‘Album 31’ to the collection of photographs that didn’t fit his existing classificatory system. These images were organised according to a different set of relations. Subject matter, processes, time frames, co-exist in unexpected juxtapositions where both humour and the spectre of human darkness emerge. Intention and purpose are replaced by contingent and unconscious alignments which Rickett and von Zwehl identify as highly productive in re-processing not only Stone’s neglected legacy but the history of changing photographic imperatives and behaviours, not least, in their own quite different practices.
By retrieving 'work' from their own outboxes the artists are exploring the margins of creative practice - a history which includes the out-take, the footnote, the off-mike, artistic marginalia of many kinds – and creating a space in which past rationales, narratives, emphasises, and trajectories are re-considered.
Album 31 enables the artists to understand better the history of their own decisions, as well as imagining a different set of outcomes, possibilities, and potential legacies.
Album 31 was originally commissioned by GRAIN and The Library of Birmingham.