The outcome of nine years of work, The Color of a Flea’s Eye highlights the history of the New York Public Library’s Picture Collection, whose contents have been available for more that a century to curious patrons in search of visual references of all kinds.
In 1929, Romana Javitz became the superintendent of the collection. Among her many pioneering efforts, she also organized a campaign to purposefully diversify the collection’s offerings, safeguarding the extensive documentation of previously neglected American themes, including folk art and the depiction of African Americans lives.
Decades before the advent of the internet, the Picture Collection’s democratic classification system was designed, under Javitz’s influence, to dialogue with individual users, whose daily requests and interventions created an analog algorithm through which materials somehow reshaped American visual culture.
The Color of a Flea’s Eye examines the forces that compel us to reevaluate what images we do appreciate. Intrigued by the Picture Collection since childhood, in 2021 Simon began to study its underlying codes and patterns; she organized and documented its visual content, revealing how the Collection is an accidental recorder of social change in the United States, as well as the invisible hand operating behind seemingly neutral systems of image gathering.