Solar Eclipses From the New York Public Library Picture Collection, RVB Book, 2016

The collages in this book were made in 2014 of the solar eclipses in the New York Public Library Picture Collection. I placed the images on the photocopier at the library, arranging them to get as many as possible in each copy. Recopying as needed to create collages of the eclipses only, cutting out text and laying the pieces together on the copier bed, I effectively created a print edition at the NYPL (I’m sure the librarians thought I was slightly insane). The images in this book are photocopies of those photocopies.

The New York Public Library Picture Collection contains over a million printed images from books, magazines and newspapers, classified into 12,000 subject headings. I’ve been using this collection and sending students there for the past twenty years. Searching the collection today is quite a different exercise than it was twenty years ago: For one thing, there were few other ways to source images then; now the act of traveling to the library, slowly working through the paper folders, touching prints and tear sheets that a specific individual has filed for a specific reason, and choosing from this finite stock, seems absurd when one could easily find these images, and millions more, online.

As the collection is gradually digitized, the material form of paper - a reflective medium requiring an external light source to be seen, and that often represents light in the image it supports - is now seen depicted online via the medium of the screen. Reflective paper becomes projective light. I focused on the solar eclipse at the library because a solar eclipse is the epitome of this relationship between reflective and projective. The dynamic of the eclipse is the negation of natural light with that whose visibility is dependent on it.

The photocopier itself is an eclipser with its light escaping around the paper it scans. Areas of unprinted opaque paper block the light, making white. But I love that where the light escapes, where there is no paper, is created the densest black – an inverted eclipse.

White becomes light, and light becomes black.

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