THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Endangered archives blog

4 posts from March 2017

23 March 2017

Yangon Photo Festival 2017

This is a guest blog written by Lukas Birk, grant holder for EAP898.

Last autumn I was able to digitise 4000 negatives from Bellay Photo Studio in downtown Yangon for EAP898. The images were taken by photographer Har Si Yone, primarily in the late 1960s and 70s. Bellay Studio was founded only a few years after General Ne Win seized power in Myanmar and subsequently introduced ‘the Burmese way of socialism’. The studio was frequented by many ethnically Chinese members of Yangon’s society, a community that suffered greatly under Ne Win’s political doctrines, many had to leave the country by the late 70s.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Bellay Photo Studio-resizeDaw Aung San Suu Kyi speaking at the award ceremony of the Yangon Photo Festival

The exhibition Yangon Fashion 1979 curated for the Yangon Photo Festival is the first narrative from the many fascinating photographs taken at Bellay Studio. The exhibition sheds light onto a hidden part of Burmese society from the 1970s; private fashion photographs. Although wearing western clothes, miniskirts, or tight blouses was not forbidden, they were certainly not worn on Yangon’s streets, as the political atmosphere was much too conservative for such individual expression. The outfits were often inspired by Burmese movie stars, musicians, or illegally imported fashion magazines. Some tailors would also provide style catalogues for outfits only used during a photo shoot. The studio was an outlet for freedom of style and young people, who could afford it, would be seen there frequently. These photos were often exchanged with friends and dedications can be found on the back of many prints.

Lukas Birk_ Yangon Photo Festival_5 - resize

YPF YANGON FASHION EXPO-23 - resize

This year’s Yangon Photo Festival branched out from its usual location, the French Culture Institute, and was held in public. It is the first time that the government allowed an uncensored public display at Maha Bandula Park in downtown Yangon. Besides Yangon Fashion 1979, the festival showed revealing photo stories by young Burmese documentary photographers, as well as a series from the World Press Photo Foundation. The festival was opened by mayor U Maung Maung Soe and state counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi juried the festival’s photo competition. Thousands of people came to see the exhibition on the first weekend and the fashion photographs became the centre of interaction and selfie-taking. The exhibition inspired many conversations; after all, everybody has a sister, aunt, or mother that had had her photograph taken in similar fashion. It was the commonality of the images that brought people together. The son of the photographer, now the proprietor of Bellay Studio, Tun Tun Lay was very moved at the sight of his father’s work being shown in a historic light and enjoyed by a huge crowd in the park.

Lukas Birk_ Yangon Photo Festival_4 - resize Lukas Birk with Mayor U Maung Maung Soe and Yangon Photo Festival curator Christophe Loviny

22 March 2017

In Search of Zoroastrian Manuscripts in Iran

To celebrate Nowruz, this guest blog has been written by Milad Jahangurfar, who is the grant holder for EAP888, a current project that hopes to find the few surviving Avestan manuscripts which have used the Persian alphabet.

 

The Avesta, the holy book of the Zoroastrians, has been written in the Avestan alphabet, which was created for this purpose probably during the Sassanid era (224-651 CE). It is usually believed that before developing the alphabet, the priests were responsible for oral transmission of the collection. However, the history of the script and the forms of transmission of the scripture are still open to debate.

Image 6 resizedSett-i Pir/Mah Setti Pir temple, inside the Asadān castle. According to Zoroastrian legends and folklore, the castle dates back to the Sassanid era.

In the 19th century, and perhaps even earlier, a new trend in writing down the Avesta was developed. Zoroastrian priests started using the Persian alphabet. This change was a solution to the problem of reading Avestan and Pahlavi (middle Persian) texts which had become difficult for both priests and the laity.

Image 1 resizedThe three major Iranian provinces (Tehran, Yazd, Kerman) where the manuscripts are located.

Tehran, Yazd and Kerman are the three major provinces in Iran where the manuscripts are likely to be located. Once being the strongholds of Zoroastrianism in Iran, they are still where Zoroastrian communities are based. Yazd and Kerman are considered to be where the manuscripts originate. Even the volumes located in Tehran have been mostly composed and inscribed in these two provinces. The Zoroastrian families that moved to Tehran, particularly during the last few decades, brought with them such manuscripts, handed down through generations, brought to the capital. A few of them found their way to safekeeping such as the National Library, the Archives of Iran and the Library of Tehran University, whereas the rest of them are kept in poor conditions in private collections and sadly there is no specific record regarding their history of ownership or the exact date of composition and provenance.

Image 4 resizedPart of a prayer in the Khordeh Avesta.

The major part of the corpora consists of the Khordeh Avesta, which means ‘the Little Avesta’. The Khordeh Avesta is a collection of daily prayers to be performed during different ceremonies and rituals by both laypersons and by priests.

Image 3 resizedMilad Jahangirfar, sorting the files after digitising the manuscript.

Image 2 resized
Dr Farzaneh Goshtasb (a faculty member at the Institute for Humanities and Cultural Studies, Tehran) working on a manuscript.

Image 7 resized
Mr Rostam, the keeper of the Sett-i Pir temple in Yazd, and Dr Goshtasb.

EAP would like to wish all of our Iranian colleagues a very happy New Year.

08 March 2017

Celebrating International Women's Day Through Photography

To mark International Women's Day I have spent an enjoyable few hours delving through some of the EAP digitised photography collections finding some images from the various different countries around the world in which we fund projects. Having found so many amazing images in the archives I'm hoping to make a fairly regular 'photo blog' to share some of them and hopefully encourage others to explore further the many thousands of photographs (as well as other material) that we host on our website. Below each image is a direct link to its page on our website where you will find many similar photographs on a whole range of different subjects. If you discover any gems, please let us know and we'll feature them in the next 'photo blog'.

1. EAP016_3_1-iokm_033-001_LEAP016/3/1 - Digitising the photographic archive of southern Siberian indigenous peoples

2. EAP054_1_4-dvd70_145_LEAP054/1/4 - Archiving a Cameroonian photographic studio (Jacques Toussele photographs)

3. EAP264_1_8_6-EAP264PE_06_107_LEAP264/1/8/6 - Photographic negatives from Mongolia (Images of nomads and their lifestyles)

4. EAP644_1_58-TFDC_520_018_0334_01_LEAP644/1/58 - Photographs from Maison Bonfils (1867-1910s), Beirut, Lebanon

5. EAP755_1_1_38-Young_women_1049_LEAP755/1/1/38 - Annemarie Heinrich photograph collection, South America

6. EAP001_1_1-7_LEAP001/1/1 - Photographs from Esfahan taken by Minas Patkerhanian Machertich, Iran

7. EAP016_4_1-kkkm_126-012_LEAP016/4/1 - Digitising the photographic archive of southern Siberian indigenous peoples

8. EAP054_1_4-dvd68_132_LEAP054/1/4 - Archiving a Cameroonian photographic studio (Jacques Toussele photographs)

9. EAP103_1_1_186-aeimB-62_843-8_LEAP103/1/1/186 - Endangered ethnographic archive, Sofia, Bulgaria
10. EAP264_1_8_8-EAP264PE_08_009_LEAP264/1/8/8 - Digitisation of rare photographic negatives from Mongolia

11. EAP737_4_3_8-EAP_737_Coll4_E_FN_B30_013_LEAP737/4/3/8 - Preserving early Tamil studio photography

12. EAP755_1_1_86-Mendoza_1940s_II_1464_LEAP755/1/1/86 - Annemarie Heinrich photograph collection (Mendoza, 1940s), South America
13. EAP054_1_167-dvd89_066_LEAP054/1/167 - Archiving a Cameroonian photographic studio (Jacques Toussele photographs)
14. EAP165_2_21_image44EAP165/2/21 - Maya K'iche' women, Guatemala
15. EAP166_2_1_3-EAP166_MPP_1900-30_063_L
EAP166/2/1/3 - Leading Rana family members, Nepal

16. EAP755_1_1_29-Horses_807_LEAP755/1/1/29 - Annemarie Heinrich photograph collection, South America

6a00d8341c464853ef01b8d2293fe4970c-800wiEAP347 - Vanishing voices from the Uralic world (Sound recordings available to listen to on BL Sounds)

 Written by Robert Miles, EAP Cataloguer

01 March 2017

Rescuing precious recordings of Nepal’s folk music heritage

When the main earthquake struck in April 2015 Ram and Homenath were working within the Museum building. They ran outside to the temple courtyard as the top story of the temple crashed to the ground. Once the red tiles beneath their feet became stable and the temple buildings ceased to sway, they surveyed the damage. The building on the North of the quadrangle that housed the Music Museum was cracked but still standing. They did not go back inside, but locked the door and went home to check the safety of their families. Despite the frequent aftershocks they returned the next day and ventured inside. Instruments had fallen to the floor and several had been damaged by falling debris. The room that housed the archive materials was in total disarray. Cassettes, manuscripts and mini-dvs were strewn across the floor covered with dust, bricks and a fallen beam.

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But let’s step back to before that day. Nepal has folk songs and melodies, and the musical instruments to accompany them that have been passed down through the generations for hundreds of years. Some were sung and played by the community as a whole, others were the specific domain of the musician castes or the wandering minstrel castes. Some were sung and played for specific festivals and ceremonies that happen annually. Some were sung in the fields while planting or weeding rice, whilst others were sung by the whole community once the harvest was in and it was time to celebrate. Some were sung by the minstrels as they travelled from village to village with news of what was happening elsewhere. Others still were hymns of praise to specific gods or were sacred epic stories and poems. Others again were simply love songs of young people who could not be together or the laments of women whose husbands have been forced by poverty to seek employment in a foreign land. Some were the humorous flirtations of a man with his sister in law, and others still were the sacred songs of Buddhist ritual dances performed in secret.

The folk music tradition of Nepal was rich. The instruments, music, songs and dances of the diverse ethnic groups of Nepal are unique in the world, yet so much has been lost over the last few generations. With the deliberate burning of Newari monastery libraries in the 1840s, the written record of music and dance culture in Nepal is very rare. Until the last two to three generations, Nepal has been a predominantly oral culture. The archive since pre-modern times has actually been in the hearts and minds of an increasingly aging and diminishing pool of artists. In a country where the priority of the majority is to meet very basic needs for food, shelter, health care and education; no official action has been taken to halt this decline.

Therefore Ram Prasad Kadel decided to make it his life’s work to record and preserve as much of Nepal's musical heritage as possible. He began making tape recordings in 1997 to add to hand written notes, testimonies, song lyrics and other records made since establishing the Nepali Folk Musical Instrument Museum in 1995. The museum later became the Music Museum of Nepal, which is entirely run on a voluntary basis. Over the years, Ram and various friends of the Museum have identified and tracked down key communities and individuals who still have the folk music skills and knowledge. The collection now also includes additional donated recordings, a significant number of which predate the work of the Museum. The archive at the Museum is currently the only way that present and future generations in Nepal, and international researchers, can access the playing of instruments that have all but died out, the melodies and lyrics of songs which are no longer sung, and dances and ceremonies which are rarely or no longer performed.

The audio cassettes and mini dv tapes, manuscript books and photographs in the archive, however, have been damaged by a range of factors - by light, dust, atmospheric pollution, mould and silverfish. And then they were shaken off the shelves to the floor and broken by falling bricks during those earthquakes that critically damaged the temple building in which the museum and archive were based.

2Staff and volunteers attend training in repairing damaged tapes

But the good news is that Ram and the other staff at the Museum are determined to preserve as much of the archive as possible, and through the support of the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP901) they are able to do that. Hence EAP 901 is about preserving the unique music and dance archive at the Museum by transferring the most endangered material to a digital format. The archive is highly vulnerable because of damage to the existing formats and because once they deteriorate beyond the point of digital capture they are irreplaceable. Many of the artists whose work is represented in the archive have already died. Elders that remain grieved that they have little or no opportunity to transfer their knowledge of melodies, lyrics, dance steps, mudras, secret and sacred rituals, musical instrument playing techniques and instrument-making skills to the younger generations. They find some solace in the fact that it has been recorded.

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The building that houses the Museum was shored up from behind and stabilised by the archaeology department soon after the earthquakes. Several opportunities of a safe place for the Museum's collections appeared to present themselves over the last 22 months, but none actually materialised. Despite this, the Museum's work had to continue and its commitments had to be met. Gradually Ram and the team regained some confidence to enter the building, initially just for salvage, but later to clean up the mess and eventually to continue to use the existing building when the frequency of after-shocks had lessened considerably. A temporary office was constructed on the ground floor close to the door to allow for swift exit if necessary. The instrument display has been cleaned and rearranged (by generous volunteers), broken instruments replaced and the archive has also been largely rescued and cleaned up with some of the most valuable salvaged analogue recordings still being stored in Ram's house. The Museum is now receiving visitors as it did before the earthquake.

4School children visit the museum

At the moment, there is no definite prospect of relocating the museum and no definite plan to repair the existing building either. However, the team never gives up hope, as demolition and rebuilding work goes on all around them, that the building will be satisfactorily repaired one day or that they will be able to find a new location.

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The work of preserving the archive currently continues from the temporary office. Without the EAP grant to enable the digital reproduction, the archive would undoubtedly deteriorate further and likely be lost, so the team are working with great enthusiasm and dedication to preserve as much as possible.

Written by Sibongile Pradhan, Ram Kadel and Norma Blackstock, grant holders for EAP736 and EAP901

Images copyright: Music Museum of Nepal