Riffs on Spiritual Metadata


Curator's Note

For as long as I can remember, the lingering smells of aged photographs, expired Kodak rolls, and photo albums stored in the cabinets and shelves of my grandparent’s home have been etched into my memory. I frequently found myself revisiting these archives and trying to put faces to the names of relatives who were born well before me. Some of whom I was seeing for the very first time. 

The photos showed their age and their travels. They had been adorned through generations and wore the fingerprints of my ancestors. Some of the photographs were electric to touch and drove me to think about the elements that I could not see. One year, I embarked on scanning these images to create forever copies. This practice was slow, and the repetitive sounds of me shuffling through stacks of photo albums and the scanner creating each pixel started to feel like a rhythm. It was meditative. After scanning, I would bring each file into Photoshop, clean up dust scratches, adjust the color balance, and restore what I could before organizing them in their new digital home. The programs I used to do this work would tag each file with metadata such as resolution, color space, file format, location, date, and more. But despite its technical accuracy, there was more to the metadata that my computer could not register.

Spiritual metadata is a term I coined to embody my experiences within the four corners of the image. Spiritual metadata is information that a computer cannot understand. Certain photographs would bring about reactions within my body that would come in the forms of sound, vibration and encourage my own spiritual understanding of a photograph’s capacity. These moments felt free and were devoid of the technical language that often prevents our ability to imagine beyond tradition. My encounters with the archive were able to produce spiritual frequencies that parallel those I have experienced with music. I could read into alternative color spaces that my eyes could not render independently. And at times, I would feel a static response to the ways in which the photo decayed while rendering new colors and texture over time. During my engagements with the physical material of my family’s archive, I found myself being led to abandon the traditional and technical constraints of color and consider color within the context of black spirituality and freedom. Spiritual metadata suggests we look into the sacred elements of the archive and how it can open portals to spirit-based influences within a filmmaking practice.

Much like a DJ tunes their ears while digging through the crates, I find myself digging through archives to calibrate my eye as a colorist. In this process, I have found a spectrum of colors that are embedded with spiritual metadata by way of the photographs’ decay and ascent. Color is a close cousin to sound, and I find harmony between the role of a DJ and the role of a colorist. As stated by Lynnée Denise, “DJ’s present music to the community and then that presentation is a performance of knowledge, a performance of rhythm and timing, a performance of technical skills, a performance of an ability to read the crowd and many other things that go into conducting a party, or composing a sort of orchestra of people on the dance floor.”[1] On a technical level, our equipment shares many characteristics. There are knobs, buttons, effects, and wires that feed into a set of monitors. And our job as artists and specialists is to use these tools to render and mix narratives. We interpret the technical and spiritual metadata embedded in our source material as a means to produce an experience for whoever is open to listening. Collectively, we engage in the art of sampling the archive and repurposing it to make something new. I encourage a close study of the parallels between a DJ’s and a colorist’s practice as means to establish an entry point for understanding the nuances of color grading. We can also consider their relationship to technical and spiritual metadata as a pathway to calibrating colors that exceed the frame in order to render a unique set of color politics that are specific to the nuances of black cultural formations and experiences.


[1] “Lynnée Denise: Sampling the Archive,” Lecture performance, 59:05, May 24, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSKRIUa_CME&t=126s.

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