The artist duo Broomberg & Chanarin were invited to respond to a Grain commission at the Library of Birmingham. Over two years they encountered, researched and questioned the photography collections at the library. In the book ‘Spirit is a Bone’ they have made connections with the archive and their own work and concerns.
The book combines a new series of portraits made with a Russian camera which was made for face recognition and surveillance, ‘non collaborative portraits’, where human contact is not made, with a new critically engaged essay by Eyal Weizman and a response to images from the Sir Benjamin Stone archive.
In the book photographs open up the relationship between technology and ideology – theories of race, class and occupation. The photographs collected by Stone in the second half of the nineteenth century, in the Library of Birmingham archive, are visual evidence of his interest in history, science, nature and cultures. Like many, widespread in the Victorian period, Stone had a need to classify, know, collect, control and own. His album no 50 ‘Types and Races of Mankind’ includes what might be called non-consensual images, made for the scrutiny of others and to increase understanding.
The book and essay prompt questions about engaging with archives and access to them.