Walter Spink: A Researcher and Photographer at Ajanta
Since coming home, I have begun working more vigorously on research I began in India of Ajanta photos by Walter Spink (art historian). I am also working on a proposal for other research on identity in the work of Gauri Gill, Pushpamala N. and Sunil Gupta which I hope to present at a conference. In addition to this research I have been getting back to the idea’s surrounding the art works I used to make blending photography and art history. I thought it might be interesting to document my accounts of research like I have been doing with my artistic work. Here I will focus on what I have been doing with the Spink research.
Walter Spink making photograph at Ajanta, no date.
I have been aware Dr. Walter Spink’s work since graduate school. The majority of his scholarly work is on the site of Ajanta in Maharastra, India. Ajanta are a set of Buddhist cave temples carved from the rock between 2nd century BCE and the 6th century CE. Spink visited Ajanta multiple times between the 1960’s and 1980’s during which time he published multiple scholarly papers on the site. What I did not realize was that he had also extensively photographed the site. I happened to come across the photographs in the American Institute of Indian Studies online database.
In addition to coming across these images, I had been reading Photographs, Objects, Histories: On the Materiality of Images edited by Elizabeth Edwards. Each of the essays in the book explores a photograph or group of photographs based on its social biography. This means the photograph is examined from the time it was made or entered the market through to when the research was done. Examining the multiple lives of these photographs gave a complete examination of their meanings. This book got me thinking about Spink’s photographs and what their histories were. I also became interested in how their inclusion in the archive creates new meaning for them. Thus this is where my research is headed now.
As it turns out, Elizabeth Edwards also has an interest in the archive. I purchased her book Raw Histories: Photographs, Anthropology and Museums, as well as, The Domain of Images by James Elkins to help me with this research. It is normal for my art history research to inform my art making, so I got the book Staging the Archive: Art and Photography in the Age of New Media. It will be interesting to see where the research on Spink’s photographs go and how the paper goes. It will also be fun to see where incorporating this knowledge into my artwork takes the work. (For that you will have to look for Works in Progress posts.)
Walter Spink, photograph of painting of Boddhisattva in Cave 1 at Ajanta, 1986 and AIIS database screenshot of photograph of painting of Boddhisattva in Cave 1 at Ajanta (1986), 2017