Lost in the Archives is the kind of hefty book that could plug a large gap in your bookshelf. But it's unlikely to be shelved quickly. The dense package is deceiving, since the essays, poems, stories and artworks bound within its coarse paper covers offer a fascinating and surprisingly light voyage through the science of collecting, documenting and storing knowledge.
All knowledge of all time. It's a big subject. The starting point is the place of storage. Candida Höfer provides a series of gorgeous photographs of libraries where subtle lighting plays on the wood-lined walls. Karen Knorr shoots animals in the archives: apes wander around museums and a wolf peruses weighty tomes in an old library.
Then there's the knowledge-as-steroids approach in Jeff Wall's famous photo of an apparently giant woman towering in the middle of a university library. Neil Cummings and Marysia Lewandowska take simple, well-composed photographs of the sites and signs of museums not yet built.
Proceeding to documenting per se, Vid Ingelevics has copied archival photographs of the mirrors in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum to expose the role of the photographer. In early shots, the original photographer can be seen in the reflection. Later, as tricks of the trade developed, the shooter was able to "disappear."
Disappearance or loss is also a theme of the book. Blake Fitzpatrick displays the emptied photo album of a worker at the 1930s radium plant in Port Hope. The old album became too radioactive to hold the man's prized celebrity photos and was locked down in a containment centre.
Vera Frenkel recounts her trips through the various archives in Vienna in grey photographs that offer a perfect complement to the tone of the story about agencies trying to restore stolen second world war properties to their rightful owners.
These are merely a few pages filed among the hundreds that give perspective to the art of the archive.
Lost in the Archives edited by Rebecca Comay (Alphabet City), 776 pages, $35 paper. Rating: NNNNN