Morgan Cowles Archive Grows
More Thematic Transects Through CLUI Imagery

THE CENTER’S MORGAN Cowles Archive continues to grow, and now has more than 2,000 images online, arranged into an expanding list of dozens of categories, each exploring some phenomenology or process of land use. There are some self-explanatory categories such as Bridges, Globes, and Towers, as well as some that depict interpretive and behavioral control methodologies, such as Photo Op (about staged photographic opportunities), Traffic Cones, and Blank Plaques (showing how blank interpretive panels can still have much to say).

These images are being discovered as photo archivists at the CLUI go through the Center’s digital and film collections organizing, scanning, and preserving the images for posterity.

Of the thousands of images members of the CLUI have taken over the years, most of them are of specific sites, taken to document places for our Land Use Database. These images are indexed, linked, and stored to correspond to the geographic locations and sites they depict.

Along the way, though, many thousands of other photos have been taken, showing things that are not so linked to specific places, like ephemeral events, signage, and details in the landscape. Developing a separate system for selecting and presenting CLUI imagery along thematic, as opposed to locational criteria, enables many images to find a place.

Like our Land Use Database images, these are generally documentary photographs, meaning they depict things as they are found in the world, and not constructed for the photograph (though they may depict staged events, they are not staged by us at least). The images show found objects in their existing context. The images themselves are also a kind of found object. Many of them are taken without knowing how exactly they will be used or contextualized. Themes emerge in retrospect as the images accumulate, and patterns and typologies appear. Each theme is a kind of evolving exhibit, following a subject, to see how it plays out.

This program is the most visible of the larger image management and storage initiative at the CLUI, the Morgan Cowles Archive. The archive is named in memory of Morgan Cowles, an archivist, geographer, explorer, and friend of the CLUI, who passed away in a skiing accident some years ago. Though none of the images in the archive are his, his spirit helps guide the process. ♦