In geology, the concept of stratification refers to a process during which sediments accumulate in layers, which eventually form more or less heterogeneous sedimentary ensembles but nevertheless remain distinct units of meaning. We often find such ensembles on the edges of paths or roads; they offer the possibility of a simultaneous reading of many strata of time that, by accumulation, have formed the geological history of the territories that we survey. A clue to a past era, perhaps now barely intelligible, each layer is presented to us as bearing its own significance, autonomous and sovereign, but still subsumed within the ensemble that we struggle to decode.
It is similar for certain images, comprehension of which assumes a peeling away of the various strata of signs that form them. In this regard, the series in the thematic section of this issue –Scarti by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, Copperheads by Moyra Davey, and Études préparatoires by Marc-Antoine K. Phaneuf – have in common that they are the result of a stratification process. Each of the works in these series proceed from an intervention, fortuitous or premeditated: on an image that serves the purpose of substrate is superimposed a referent that is originally foreign to it – for example, another image or simple accidents of time. Forcing us to alternate repeatedly between analysis and synthesis of their various constituent parts, these works allow us to appreciate how the addition of signs may modify, enrich, or short-circuit the nature and meaning of an image. Translated by Käthe Roth