“The confused and intricate laws of ordinary life are replaced, in this fixed space and for this given time, by precise, arbitrary, unexceptionable rules that must be accepted as such and that govern the correct playing of the game”.
As soon as I stumbled upon this quote taken from Man, Play and Games - the influential book on the sociology of play written by Roger Caillois in 1961 - I thought it could work as a quite precise introduction for a review of The Backup Project by artists Tiago Casanova and Christiane Peschek. Even if I have followed the evolution of the project since its early days, it was first when I started writing about it that I actually realised how arduous it can be to describe it clearly and shortly. It would be incorrect to say that it is “just” a photobook project, as it could also respond to the definitions of game, database and archive. It would be consequently incorrect to say that this is a “proper” photobook review. In order to break the deadlock I should start by describing how The Backup Project works and then reflect on its editorial, linguistic and ontological implications.
The Backup Project is a web platform that contains 100K photographs coming from the personal archives of the two authors, meaning that half of the pictures belong to Casanova’s pool of images - taken until the day the project was launched with any kind of device - and half to Peschek’s. No censorship, editing or whatsoever restrictions have been applied to the archives, which have been included in the project in chronological order and in their integrity.
The thousands of numbered images, though, are kept undisclosed: by accessing The Backup Project’s web main page, the visitor is presented with an interactive grid of numbers, where each of them refers to an image of both archives.
We are here entering in the “core” of the play: the visitor is asked to select 20 numbers among the ones that are still available (because each single number can be selected only once) choosing between an active pick carried out in first person or a passive random selection operated by an algorithm. Once the 20 numbers are selected, the visitor has the possibility to order the only and unique book that contains the 40 photographs corresponding to the chosen numbers. Last but not least: the platform has a limited life span and it will be shut down on April 30th, 2018.
Now that we are knowledgable about the rules of the game, we can go back to Caillois’ quote and confirm that The Backup Project has all the elements that are mentioned there, being:
- separate: circumscribed within limits of space and time, defined and fixed in advance;
- uncertain: the course of which cannot be determined, nor the result attained beforehand;
- governed by rules: under conventions that suspend ordinary laws and establish new legislation, which alone counts.
It becomes thus clear why The Backup Project isn’t “just” a photobook: the photographic discourse is here inserted in a wider perspective on the ludic aspect of taking, collecting, archiving and then distributing images, in a society where the overabundance of the visual data goes hand by hand with the prevalence of the immediate sharing (and therefore public) momentum against the safeguard of the private long-term memory. The Backup Project draws the very extremes of the essence of photography near each other, like in a cartesian diagram: immateriality vs physicality, infinitude vs definiteness, randomness vs structure, anonymity vs subjectivity, ephemerality vs permanence, automatisation vs craftsmanship (all the books are unique and handmade).
It becomes also clear why this isn’t a “proper” book review, as I haven’t seen my copy yet. I have picked my numbers and ordered the book a few months ago. I made my selection by following a loosely symbolic principle based on numbers that are recurrent in my life, and I cannot lie on the fact that I am now pretty curious to know what the fate has reserved me. Exactly like in a lottery game.