The Archive of Modern Conflict

The Archive of Modern Conflict is in a large house in an expensive part of West London. I visited in 2005 to conduct an interview with Timothy Prus (published in Source 43) and when we visited again to make this film, in December last year, at first glance nothing much had changed. Each room was lined with shelves containing books and photo albums, apparently in such profusion that taking down something at random could transport you to any part of the modern world and any imaginable experience. On my previous visit I was shown albums made by Peruvian transsexuals in Paris, a 19th century vicar in East Anglia and doctors recording head wounds.

The impression of universality was an illusion however, because in the intervening years they have expanded the building downwards to create a large store-room (re-routing a river in the process) and now have additional warehouses elsewhere in London containing, among other things, an operational printing press. The curious objects I was shown on this visit included a large and ancient volume of pressed plants, a book of tiny handwriting (I couldn't read what it was about) and a blacksmith-made blunderbus for intimidating poachers. So, although the majority of the objects in the Archive are still photographs, they have branched out into other fields.

Since my last visit they have also created a website to promote their publications and conducted a few remote interviews with other publications. Articles about the Archive describe it as ‘mysterious’ and ‘enigmatic’ but what really distinguishes it, is that it is a private collection without any obvious commercial motive. The Archive is owned and funded by David Thomson (the wealthiest man in Canada) and Timothy Prus and the others employed by the Archive are, unlike most archivists, constantly adding to their collection rather than struggling to maintain what they already have and make it publicly accessible.

They are not obliged to make themselves ‘relevant’ in any way or depend on public profile for their funding (the opposite in fact). They do invite people selectively into the Archive from time to time as with this issue of Draft magazine or the intriguing forthcoming show by Mike Nelson (given a surprisingly low-key billing here). Prus, Jones and the others are in a kind of paradise for the inquisitive, allowed to follow where their curiosity leads them... and the collection just keeps getting bigger and more astonishing.

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2 Responses to The Archive of Modern Conflict

  1. Pingback: A Paris Photo, les archives secrètes de Timothy Prus | Instantanés

  2. Pingback: A Paris notebook « Camera Portraits

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