The issue of Bidoun you hold in your hands has a photograph affixed to its cover. The photo is unique to this copy of the magazine. It was procured for one Egyptian pound (eighteen cents U.S.) and shipped, along with thousands of other photos, directly to our printer in Las Vegas. The decision to do this was the source of considerable excitement on our end — about the possible originality of the gesture, about the fact that we had not seen any of the images and likely never would. But this excitement was accompanied by an indistinct anxiety.
Gathering these photos from the market stalls and dusty storage spaces of Cairo and placing them on our cover does a number of things that we like. Considered photographically, these images, by the way they are used and the manner in which they have been collected, pose a series of questions — about representation, about objecthood, about the question of the question of the archive. Their very randomness disallows traditional indices of aesthetic value, authorial intent, and craft, posing an old question about the nonrepresentational content of photography in concrete terms: what, if anything, is a photograph besides the specific image that selectively obscures its serene white surface? What remains is the idea of the photograph as a diffuse and contingent effect of forces of production and distribution.
From the perspective of the archivist, the photograph affixed to the cover does not exist. By gathering these discards and binding them to a (purportedly) legitimate publication, replete with ISBN number, that resides in the collections of a number of public and private libraries, we are, in a sense, rescuing them from their status as detritus. But then, by distributing these issues to bookstores, art fairs, and thousands of unknown individuals — not to mention the accursed share of unsold copies bound for store basements, secondhand book stores, and landfills — these photos are destined to return to the obscurity from whence they came.
This is the source of the anxiety that attended our excitement. While making each copy of this issue a unique object encapsulates the ethos of an issue devoted to our library — itself a collection of detritus of ignoble origin — it also serves as a reminder that Bidoun, too, is detritus, with an equally ignoble end.