Negotiating an Absence
Research into these sculptural book supports led me to understand that they had been designed by the noted conservator Christopher Clarkson, initially for the Bodleian Library, before being adopted by libraries and museums globally. Their purpose being that "The reader should not be holding the book open with one hand while trying to write notes with the other, but should have both hands free. This is particularly important with parchment manuscripts which are easily marked by the natural oil from hands. The foam material was especially selected for its particular pliability and sensitive surface which allows a book’s uneven board surfaces, even with bosses and side pins, to be equally supported over the entire exterior surface. The particular density of foam used ensures that books do not slip (even slight movement can damage a fragile cover), and the grey colour was found to be preferable in a library environment. Users appreciate the gentle and sympathetic nature of these book supports”. When Geoffrey Batchen spoke at a conference in Oxford (2017) he said; ‘photography has become an immaterial medium” and that working with it today is “closer to genetic engineering than chemistry’. Photography’s journey has shared a close relationship with that of knowledge and Batchen's quote could be interchangeable, in many ways, to discuss how knowledge is viewed, away from the uneven, slipping books of the past, on flat, smooth screens with the mass digitisation of reference books making them universally available online. The digitisation process, for all its positive implications for both mediums, bringing about an absence, a loss, a displacement of the physical. Standing as a metaphor alluding to these seismic shifts, speaking to the de-materialising that Batchen refers, these images delight in the physicality of these magnificently imperfect, present, tactile objects.