Whether it’s a magic lantern or an LCD display, presentational forms show the physical traces of usage and time and reflect specific intent of how the image should reach its viewer. This is especially true when you see a dusty slide projector in an attic or a classroom closet. While it once showed vacation photos in a living room or brought the Colosseum into a lecture hall, most slide projectors are now relics. When Kodak started making 2” x 2” mounts in 1939, they were solidifying memories–and now the slide projector is becoming one.
Mad Men’s Don Draper called the carousel slide projector a time machine that goes backwards and forwards and “takes us to a place where we ache to go again.” Some people still realize this power of the machine. The whirring of the motor and the click when the slide advances create a unique experience that can’t be reproduced with PowerPoint. Art historian T.J. Demos said the slideshow viewer is located in a space between memory and anticipation and that slide projection “opens an indeterminate zone between the autonomy of the single-frame photograph and the uninterrupted continuity of filmic illusion.” This space can persist without Kodak’s help but it takes creativity.
Families may still hold on to old slide film and services are available to convert digital images into slides. The tradition of slide comparisons continues in the art history classroom, although now it’s mostly done with digital images.
In the twentieth century art world, slides were used mostly for archival purposes. Now slides and slide projectors are archival pieces themselves, and artists are using what is left to make something new. They are projecting homemade slides made of bubble wrap and flies, cutting and pasting old Kodachrome, and making sculptures out of slide mounts. In her essay “Reinventing the Medium,” Rosalind Krauss says photography, like slides, has become a curio, and that outmoded technology is reinvented in the face of its obsolescence. Artists are proving it by using slide projectors as more than a tool. And their choice in tool is for more than for kitsch factor. In our age of digital reproduction, an aura remains in the immaterial projected image because its connected to an actual object.
Bill Brown wrote that we begin to confront the thingness of objects when they stop working for us. Once the slide projector was released from being equipment, it became something else. It can be material to mold or even a time machine. This exhibit follows the Birth, Life, Death, Autopsy, and Afterlife of the slide projector. Like the carousel, we go around and around and back to the place we ache to be.
This exhibit was created by Mary Finer for the graduate seminar “Media & Materiality” at The New School. All images are credited with their sources except for those taken by the author.
 Elizabeth Edwards & Janice Hart, Eds., Photographs Objects Histories: On the Materiality of Images (New York: Routledge, 2004).