Sam Vale / Latent: A hidden history
Latent: A hidden history has been produced to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act which began the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality and an advancement in human rights. The project re-imagines photographs taken from the South-East Archive of Seaside Photography (SEAS) and was developed to communicate and question the absence of gay male history within archival records. This is pertinent when examining the SEAS archive, as coastal towns are democratic spaces that bring together people from varied social backgrounds, transcending barriers and creating archives that are rich in material. Yet the gay male history is absent, missing from these archival records due to legislation (and its related prejudice and fear) placed on gay men prior to 1967. Responding to this absence, the work has been made by obsessively scouring archival images, longing to form a historical cultural past that is omitted.
Presented as two related sets of works: The first set is produced from cropping small sections, from a larger photograph, re-focusing the viewers’ attention onto part a scene that might be overlooked in its original context. This queering of the archive allows us to see fleeting moments that were unintentionally recorded, taken involuntarily with alternate purposes. Importantly, these resulting pictures are not retouched or edited, but present real events and situations not necessarily meant to be documented. These infinitesimal details are deliberately beyond focus, vague or obscured; the unrecognisable figures standing in for an imagined past that is unobtainable. The second set visualises the absent history, through the presentation of the original archive images with a physical hole cut, where the queered fragment (from the first set) has been removed.
The work is timely, acting as a tribute to the many lives and loves lived in secret. But also serves as a contemporary call to arms, inviting people to record LGBTQ histories, before they vanish, so that in the future, narratives do not need to be imagined and can be reflected upon and held up as real testimonies and experiences.
All images are by Sam Vale, courtesy of the SEAS Archive.
Sam Vale is an academic and internationally exhibited artist interested in the use of photography and its relationship to other media. Working with collections and archives, Vale aims to uncover narratives which might not be immediately apparent from the gathered objects, offering an alternate perspective to the collected material and the owners or curators that accrue it.
Vale received a Doctorate in Philosophy from the London College of Communication for his practice-based research project ‘Collecting Rooms: Objects, identities and Domestic Spaces’, which examined the private spaces of collectors. Working in close collaboration with participants, Vale collects the personal accounts of each subject and re-presents them, producing artworks that aim to disclose their motivations, satisfactions and frustrations associated with space. The films developed as part of this research have been exhibited widely, which has led to several commissioned artworks about private collectors. The most recent being the film ‘Behind the Scenes’ which was commissioned by the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge to give some context and insight into Matthew Fox’s Star Wars figure collection.
Vale’s post-doctoral research continues to look at collecting, but as a methodology for examining and investigating different aspects of space and time. His recent publication ‘Loop: The stupid things that adults do’ examined ideas of collecting time, while his project on Kent cherries ‘Picked,’ use techniques associated with collecting to reveal subtle narratives about change, community and location.
In addition to his practice based research, Vale co-convened the international conference ‘Nostalgias: Visualising Longing,’ (2013) with Monica Takvam. This event was designed to explore multiple concepts of nostalgia within contemporary culture across a range of media and disciplines. Developing from this, Takvam and Vale co-edited a special edition of the journal ‘Photography and Culture’ (2016) that revisits some of the conference papers, specifically examining the relationship between different types of nostalgia and photography.
Vale is Programme Director of the BA (hons) Photography at Canterbury Christ Church University, where he uses his research projects to inform his teaching practice. Particularly interested in the symbiotic relationship between theory and practice, Vale teaches across a variety of modules, specialising in research methods and narrative. This is mirrored in his own work where he combines ideas of biography, nostalgia and material culture to examine the way that narratives are formed, told and re-presented. In particular, he is focused on the nuances that make people individuals, creating artworks that combine narratives gained in relation to objects, memory, experience and longing.