Photographs and manuscripts: working in the archive
This essay opens out a series of questions concerning matter and materiality in the age of the digital via engagement with the literary papers of Australian writer Eve Langley (1904–74), held in the Mitchell Library in Sydney. Among those papers is a single black and white snapshot labelled ‘The Manuscript Cupboard, 1970’, which shows three shelves of a household cupboard filled with exercise books, folders and paper-wrapped parcels. The same collection also contains a series of colour snapshots showing Langley’s manuscripts arranged in a variety of tableaux laid out across her untended lawn. That Langley should have first taken and then preserved such photos is perhaps not surprising given her deep attachment to material conditions of writing and, in particular, to manuscripts and paper. For Langley, to write was quite simply to inhabit paper and she framed the experience of writing as one of immersion, not just in ideas and words, but literally in paper. Framed by a consideration of the anxieties around materiality provoked by the emergence of digital technologies, this essay explores paper’s presence as an integral dimension of the experience of being in the archive and working with original materials.
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