Karmiole Symposium Examines Forms of Representation through the Archival Lens

Event supported by supported by alumnus Kenneth Karmiole (’71, MLS) explored the role and ethics of visual representation in creating works of art and activism.

The Kenneth Karmiole Symposium on Jan. 26 at UCLA explored “[dis]memory, [mis]representation & [re]figuring the archival lens: A Symposium on Visual Archives & Forms of Representation.” With a focus on the visual nature of archival materials, a wide range of presenters included UCLA students and faculty of the UCLA Department of Information Studies, artists, scholars, and activists. The questions of how archival practices present narratives that are disputable; the inclusion of multiple voices in archival representation; authorship and subjecthood within archival records; and a dissection of the power in visual archives and the repurposing of it toward social justice. The symposium was made possible through the generous gift of UCLA alumnus Kenneth Karmiole (’71, MLS) and is organized by, UCLA IS Professor Anne Gilliland and Ph.D. students Gracen Brilmyer and María Montenegro.

Kwanda Ford, a doctoral student in Critical Media Studies at UCLA, spoke on the dearth of materials and finding aids for singer and actor Lola Falana in film and entertainment archives, and the marginalization of Black women in film collections and in archival services.

Ruth Livier, a UCLA IS doctoral student, shared her perspectives on “Fiction, Archives, and Memory” in regard to her creation of a novella, “Maricruz,” speaking spoke on the inspiration drawn from artifacts and the greatly varying histories of the destruction and fatalities from gas explosions that took place in Analco Colonia Atlas, a district of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico in 1992. Using methods from an approach described by UCLA IS Professor Michelle Caswell in her book, “Archiving the Unspeakable: Silence, Memory, and the Photographic Record in Cambodia,” Livier noted what Caswell calls “the social life of records.”

“I hope that bringing an archival lens to this project will help move the work forward in more robust and complex ways, and that the theory developed around imagined records will help legitimize its content as to what it aspires to be: a work of advocacy that engages with the people’s narrative,” she said.

“Archival theory provides a framework and an actual tool with which creative writers can make sense of human rights records as it relates to their creative works. Making sense of a complex system like Analco requires the right lens … otherwise the significance of the records, the absence of the records, and [the people’s] silences risk seeming like an orderless mass. My goal for the novel is that it will be a story that in some way participates in revealing and repairing some of the representational mistakes about Analco.”

UCLA MLIS student Samantha Blanco presented “Representation, Affect, and the Archives: A Shrine to Lon Chaney,” which explored learning about historical figures through admirers’ records, dealing with uncomfortable truths about the past.

Kwanda Ford presented “Finding Lola Falana: Imagining the Future Finding Aids for Film and Visual Studies,” upon which her dissertation is based. Ford, who is a doctoral student in Critical Media Studies and a Eugene V. Cota Robles Fellow at UCLA, researches the Black feminist tradition and its relevance to history and representations of Black women in media. Her presentation centered on the difficulty she had in using finding aids to search for materials on Falana, a singer, dancer, and actor whose most memorable work was done during the 1960s-1970s.

Ford said that she sought to challenge appraisal practices that reduce Black subjects and labor to property. She explained how and why Falana is marginalized in archives and the impact that had on Black film scholarship. She also spoke about how Black scholars are served – or not served – while conducting research in archives.

“Each time I go into an archive … I am being policed not only [for being] there, but when I’m pulling out these 8 X 10s in the lightbox when no one else is studying anyone Black… I think that the archivists in those moments have an ethical responsibiliy to make sure I feel comfortable, to see if there is additional help [needed], and … [they] should dig deeper.”

For the full program from “[dis]memory, [mis]representation & [re]figuring the archival lens: A Symposium on Visual Archives & Forms of Representation,” click here.


Above: UCLA alumnus Kenneth Karmiole (’71, MLS) sponsored a daylong symposium at UCLA on visual archives and forms or representation. UCLA Professor of Information Studies Anne Gilliland (second from left) and Ph.D. students María Montenegro and Gracen Brilmyer organized the event in the GSE&IS Building at North Campus. L-R: Karmiole, Gilliland, Montenegro, and Brilmyer