The Shut-Down Image

The slide shuts down-or de-activates–at night. Or in the dark. No one knows for sure. Several months ago during inventory of the slides holdings in bunker #11 one of our head archivists found herself suddenly lurched into darkness when the power cut-out during a violent electrical storm. We have all been trained to carry back-up night-vision goggles when in the bunker archives (who follows such protocols?) and so, and thus.

Can’t you imagine, for yourselves, what happened next? The archivist donned her goggles to continue her work when she noticed that–faintly illuminated by the red light of the emergency exit sign–each of the slides before her bore faint traces of their images, except for one. One that had shut-down, de-activated, or gone to sleep in the absence of direct light.

Also, time seems to pass in the image, although we have only just begin to document this. That is, the objects in the slide remain stationary, but appear to age, to decay, in real-time. We first noticed this with the two bushes on the easterly side of the house at far left, bushes that slowly turned brown (the effect of drought?) after several weeks.

But it is the first phenomenon–the shut-down–that captures our attention. The fact that the images de-activates or sleeps as a (hopeless) act of preservation against, it appears, time itself.

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Daily Distribution of Labor

Sometime during the early 1900s Lost Signals instituted a record-keeping system whose methods were labor based rather than item-archive based. Previous systems of categorization (dating back to our founding in the 1830s) had centered on the archival materials themselves; recording the labor necessary for archiving and cataloging was incidental. What do we know about why the shift to a record system based on labor, not objects? As usual, there is an abundance of physical evidence marking the evolution to labor, but the meaning of this evidence remains murky.

What we know is this: around 1902, Grace Gomez devised the “Daily Distribution of Labor” pages, printing them in booklets labelled “Time Book.” Each employee was given one of these booklets per month in order to keep a daily record of his or her labor in the archives. We’re fortunate that, despite the numerous purges of the archives, there remained–squirreled away beneath a cement floor–a complete, blank booklet, a page of which is pictured below. Why the booklets (and almost all references to Grace Gomez) were purged is not exactly clear, although we have our dark theories.


Black House Rising

The Black House reconstitutes itself perpetually, never fully succumbing to chaos, never fully succumbing to order. It manifests a desire for something, but what? And at what cost, per chance that desire be met? Black House is always supposedly “rising,” about to seize power, and yet year after year, decade after decade, it sits there, reconstituting itself, perpetuating its own architecture. If only Black House would shift beyond the banality of its form and express itself, even if that expression wiped out the mechanisms of that expression. Those who hope for and actively labor in secret to bring about the rise of Black House are, inevitably, as disappointed as those who work for its demise.

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On the fifth sub-basement level of the northeast regional archives compound (NERAC) are around 6,000 photographs and sketches depicting subjects whose faces are covered, either by their own hand or some other hand. There are versions of what’s known as “the woman with the gun” photograph (below) dating from circa 1948. It’s difficult to say which image is the original, the primary image, and in fact more than one archivist has suggested–after careful inspection of the details–that they are two separate photographs taken at precisely the same moment. This theory has gained traction of late, as digital encoding and sourcing technologies have improved to the point that we can say that the two images are, in fact, in perfect keeping with each other, apart from the two obvious differences (left-facing/right-facing and exposure). As improbable as it seems, we know now what quantum physics knows: that two incompatible states can exist simultaneously, that A and B can equal B and A, or BA/AB. The doubled, doppelgänged world is the natural world, made unnatural by its division. At NERAC the archivists are working to collapse that division and restore the balance.


The Boy with the Camera

Item #18,374 from the Lost Signals 35 mm reversal film archives, series C. This arrived at LS long ago, sometime in the autumn of 1968, from what can be gleaned. The boy in question (standing 4 from left) is, unfortunately, a familiar face here, whose name we are not yet prepared to reveal. (I.e., we are not yet equipped to defend ourselves from him once we expose him.) The camera in question, the one that hangs around his neck, does something terrible to those unfortunate to fall within its finder, its vision. It cripples them in a way that only gradually reveals itself, cripples them from within, a cancer of the soul, some have said, or else a cancer of spirit. In fact LS itself has lost to this crippledom a very dear archivist, in fact the very archivist who delivered this picture to us in ’68. This is the first of three images of “the boy” scheduled to be published here. We have to wait and gauge his response–and then settle upon our own response to his response–before pushing ahead with the other two posts.


Audio File Contagion

On occasion there are artifacts from the archives that are unpublishable. Such is the case with an audio file so dangerous that it’s unlikely it has ever been listened to or heard. The file exists on a dedicated computer sealed in a soundproof studio in one of the rooms in the so-called “third basement” beneath the Lost Signals compound. It’s been played three times, in silence, and on one occasion its waveform image was captured, and is reproduced here. In 2002 an effort was made to re-create the audio from its waveform, the theory being that a version based on the source’s structural metadata might prove less toxic, if toxic at all. However, subsequent listening tests on mice proved, unfortunately, otherwise. The mice melted, which will be the subject of another posting.

So, the file exists, unlistenable as it is. Some would say it awaits its ideal listener, as a book awaits its ideal reader. For now, the closest we can come to hearing the file is the image below, undoubtedly a very poor iteration of the original.

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Man in Flight

From a box individual frames from 16mm “no wave” films circa NYC 1978-1981 comes this frame taken from Amos Poe’s 1978 film The Foreigner. The man in flight is Eric Mitchell, and while the frame depicts a familiar scene in the film–as the foreigner is chased by unknown people for unknown reasons–it actually does not appear in the film at all. In fact, the film frame seems to depict a meticulously reconstructed moment that appears to have been in the film (to casual observers) but which, in truth, is entirely absent.

Why would someone go to the trouble of creating a false film frame from an obscure, underground 1978 film, and how did we detect is falseness? Second question first: the authentic version of The Foreigner was produced on acetate base film stock, common for the era. The frame in question, however, is a polyester film based, not used widely until the mid-1990s. Also, while it’s clear that every effort has been made by the forgers to capture a “1978 NYC environment,” there are several clues which point to the 1990s such as the street light bulb housing/casing, a shape which seems to evoke the 1970s, but which actually dates to decades later.

As to the first question, we understand that there are those who would undermine not only the Lost Signals archives, but the entire notion of historical archives themselves, slowly supplanting authentic, time-sourced samples with false, ahistorical ones. We here at LS were made to “discover” (through an anonymous tip that led us to a remote storage shed) this supposed trove of rare film frames and archive them as “real” when, in fact, they are anything but.

We see this as an opportunity, a chance to confront and expose those who would propagate archives across the world with reproduced–but slightly altered–versions of their authentic counterparts.

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