THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Endangered archives blog

25 posts categorized "Photographs"

12 May 2017

Representing Self and Family: Preserving Tamil Studio Photography

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Photography arrived in India in the 1840s with the first photographic society in South India being created in Madras in 1856. During the early decades of Indian photography, it was accessible almost exclusively to the colonial administration and Indian elite. However by the 1880s, commercial photography studios had found their way into the bazaars of the Presidency’s and family portraits started to appear inside Tamil households. Previously no local forms of popular portraiture existed aside from representations of the divinities.

1. Nalla Pillai studio_Kumbakonam (2)Negative from the Nalla Pillai Studio, Kumbakonam

Tamil portrait photography, often facing restricted access to technological improvements, rapidly developed into a rich practice, where technical inventions, ingenious adaptions and artistic achievements rubbed shoulders. The early Tamil commercial studio photographers created their own visual language to represent south India selves and families. Their idioms combined the use of props, accessories, backdrops, over-painting, collage, and montage. Throughout the first half of the 20th century constraints imposed by high costs and difficulties in importing recent photographic equipment resulted in the prolonged use of older photographic equipment and processes by small family-run studios.

The advent of mechanised processing and printing of colour photography followed by the digital revolution radically transformed photographic practices and production. A very large number of studios closed down (with their archives often, but not always, lost) as they could not financially manage to acquire the expensive equipment necessary. The studios that did manage to survive these successive technological revolutions discarded manual processing and printing of black and white portraiture which had been their trade and skill for over a century (cf. Article in The Hindu, “In a Fading Light”, by A. Shripathi, 13/07/2015).

2. Discarded prints in a second hand shop (2)Discarded prints in a second hand shop

Over the last 25 years, the 'visual turn' in South Asian Studies, has afforded glimpses into numerous visual media produced in the Indian subcontinent over the last century and a half. Concerning the field of Indian photography, the vast majority of publications and archives concern colonial practices of photography and north or central Indian appropriations of the photographic media during the 20th century. The productions of South Indian studio photographers are largely unexplored and no archive exists to foster research on this vast and rich topic of study. The material digitised during the project will provide visual evidence of Tamil society at moments of crucial social and cultural changes.

5. Studio interior in TirunelvelliStudio interior in Tirunelvelli

This major project will create the first archive of Tamil studio photography, namely family portraiture, from the time of the introduction of commercial photo studios in the second half of the 19th century up to the introduction of mechanised photographic processing. The project aims to cover the different productions of black and white manually processed studio photography (prints, negatives and glass plates) which are rapidly disappearing either through natural degradation or, in many cases, voluntary destruction. The feasibility of creating this archive was explored in the pilot project EAP737 through the survey of 100 studios in 14 localities.

The EAP946 archive aims to provide researchers with unique visual material and metadata of Tamil society at moments of crucial social and cultural changes. Besides the study of photographic processes and mediums throughout history, of the evolutions of representation of women and men, a wide range of issues could be investigated such as the consequences of the introduction of photo portraits in the homes; the ways in which these have affected vernacular notions of individuality and dual dimension of personhood (akam/interior and puram/exterior); their impact on representations of marriage from alliance to conjugality; the uses of family portraits as hybrid photo-objects subject to daily domestic ritual venerated alongside chromolithographs of divinities in Tamil households; the transformation of regional and sectarian dress codes etc.

4. Salem studio archives (2)Salem Studio archives

These unique photographic productions are severely endangered by chemical, climatic and human factors. Firstly, many of the earlier photographs produced by the commercial photo studios are showing signs of accelerated deterioration due to the chemical processes used for developing and printing during the first decades of photographic productions. This situation is aggravated by the tropical climate of southern India with its year round high level of humidity which is particularly detrimental to both prints and negatives. Secondly, large parts of photographic productions have been destroyed and continue to be destroyed due to a lack of awareness about the importance of preserving this heritage. During a century (1880-1980) of black and white photographic productions, many studios were regularly destroying their collections by selling negatives (glass and film) to silver-extractors. Similarly, families are discarding the portraits of the older generations by selling them to second-hand wood and glass dealers who dismantle the frame to recycle the materials. The photos (generally piled on the ground of the shop) are kept by these dealers for the occasional passer-by who can purchase these private portraits for a minimal price. Thirdly, the lack of awareness about the value of this unique heritage further results in the deterioration of the remaining photographic material in Tamil Nadu. Many of the earliest studios have closed over the last 30 years and the descendants of studio photographers often have minimal knowledge of preservation conditions for negatives and prints, nor an understanding for the value and vulnerability of their forefathers’ photographic productions. Besides the major objective of creating an archive of this endangered material, the project will also raise awareness and interest of the collection holders in order to preserve in the best possible conditions the remnants of this invaluable heritage.

7. Ramesh Kumar digitizing (EAP 737) (2)Ramesh Kumar digitising images (EAP 737)

Private photo collections from photo studios will be the primary source for digitisation efforts. Researchers will be able to study the technical and ‘stylistic’ transformation of studio photography over the decades, and eventually, when compared to other studios in other places, the study of regional variations. The digitisation of each studio archives constitutes a corpus of its own that enables systematic image analysis to be done. The project will also aim to digitise photographic material from private homes which should provide interesting documentation on the photographic consumption of families. Digitising sessions will be conducted in 8 medium and large sized towns in Tamil Nadu: Kumbakonam, Karaikudi, Cuddalore, Pondicherry, Madurai, Chennai, Tirunelveli, and Coimbatore.

8. Coordinators Ramesh Kumar and Zoe Headley on a tea break (EAP 737)Coordinators Ramesh Kumar and Zoe Headley on a tea break (EAP 737)

Written by Zoé Headley, French Institute of Pondicherry. Zoé is the grant holder for the ongoing EAP946 major project along with Ramesh Kumar and Alexandra de Heering. Zoé and Ramesh conducted the pilot project EAP737. There are already some fantastic images online from the pilot project to check out. I've added a few below, and you can see more here. We're really looking forward to seeing what we receive for EAP946!

EAP737_4_4_31-EAP_737_Coll4_SP_PT_021_LEAP737/4/4/31 - Studio Portrait Photo Prints [1955-1978]

EAP737_4_4_31-EAP_737_Coll4_SP_PT_023_LEAP737/4/4/31 - Studio Portrait Photo Prints [1955-1978]

  EAP737_4_4_12-EAP_737_Coll4_SP_FN_B12_025_LEAP737/4/4/12 - Studio Portrait Negatives Box 12 [1960-1978]

EAP737_4_4_12-EAP_737_Coll4_SP_FN_B12_029_LEAP737/4/4/12 - Studio Portrait Negatives Box 12 [1960-1978]

 

28 April 2017

Photographs for International Labour Day

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To mark International Labour Day on Monday, I thought I would browse through two photographic collections where I knew there would be some great images of people at work. The first set of photographs is from Mongolia (EAP264). I could have picked so many, the themes range from working at the coalface, tanners, the clothing industry, shop assistants and perhaps my favourite which was taken inside a sausage factory. The second set was taken by Annemarie Heinrich (EAP755) and show people at work in Argentina. Here we have brick makers, greengrocers, sugar refinery workers, images of an abattoir and timber yard employees.

Both collections date roughly from the 1930s to the 1950s and are visually appealing, but it is clear that the work was physically demanding and often carried out in dangerous conditions. Do visit these collections for yourself and see what other gems you can discover.

EAP264_1_5_1-EAP264IN_Box22_023_LEAP264/1/5/1 Ulaanbaatar’s power plant operation, auto mechanical shop as well as metal work

EAP264_1_5_6-EAP264IN_Box38_005_LEAP264/1/5/6 early coal mining activities

EAP264_1_5_6-EAP264IN_Box38_024_LEAP264/1/5/6 cheerful coal miners

  EAP264_1_5_2-EAP264IN_Box25_001_LEAP264/1/5/2 Skin processing in Ulaanbaatar factory

EAP264_1_5_2-EAP264IN_Box25_084_LEAP264/1/5/2 Timber processing in Ulaanbaatar

EAP264_1_5_4-EAP264IN_Box33_009_LEAP264/1/5/4 Mongolian shop

EAP264_1_5_5-EAP264IN_Box36_036_LEAP264/1/5/5 Sausage factory 

EAP755_1_1_32-Men__and__their__chores_895_LEAP755/1/1/32 Making bricks

EAP755_1_1_37-Men_on_the_Street_1031_LEAP755/1/1/37 Selling squash

EAP755_1_1_108-Sugar_refinery_Tucumán_1598_TIF_LEAP755/1/1/108 Sugar refinery, Tucumán

EAP755_1_1_139-Men_and_their_chores_II_1836_TIF_LEAP755/1/1/139 Timber workers

EAP755_1_1_139-Men_and_their_chores_II_1845_TIF_LEAP755/1/1/139 Abattoir work

EAP755_1_1_139-Men_and_their_chores_II_1831_TIF_LEAP755/1/1/139 Cargo carriers

 

 

 

09 February 2017

New collections online - February 2017

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This month we have three new collections added to the EAP website: Buddhist manuscripts from Laos, and Tamil and Burmese studio photography.

EAP737_4_4_31-EAP_737_Coll4_SP_PT_002_L
EAP737/4/4/31 - Studio Portrait Photo Prints [1955-1978]

EAP737: Representing Self and Family. Preserving early Tamil studio photography

Photography arrived in India in the 1840s with the first photographic society in South India being created in Madras in 1856. During the early decades of Indian photography, the constraints and costs of acquiring photographic equipment meant that photography was accessible almost exclusively to the colonial administration and Indian elite. However by the 1880s, commercial photography studios had found their way into the bazaars of the Presidency’s medium size towns, and family portraits started to appear inside Tamil households. In South India, prior to the arrival of commercial photography, there existed no local forms of popular portraiture aside from the representations of divinities. The early Tamil commercial studio photographers created their own visual language to represent south India selves and families, combining the uses of props, accessories, backdrops, over-painting, collage and montage.

There is a real urgency in preserving these photographs. Many of the earlier photographs produced by the commercial photo studios are showing signs of deterioration due to some of the chemical processes used for developing and printing during the first decades of photographic production. The climatic conditions of South India are extremely detrimental for photographic prints and negatives, even for those printed from the beginning of the 20th century onwards. With the advent of mechanised processing and printing followed by the digital revolution in photography, many of the old photo studios have closed down and their archives of glass-plate negatives and film negatives have been destroyed, either through lack of interest or space to conserve them.

The project team were able to conduct fieldwork in the eight target towns (Chennai, Coimbatore, Cuddalore, Karaikudi, Kumbakonam, Madurai, Pondicherry, Tirunelveli), and were also able to carry out surveys in an additional six towns (Chidambaram, Jayamkundan, Meencuruti, Pollachi, Tindivanam, Villupuram). In each locality, the oldest photo studios where sought out and in total 100 photo studios were approached over the course of the pilot project. In many instances, but not all, the owners of the photo collections have given their consent for future digitisation of their archives. Also, family members of studios which have closed down over the last 30 years were also sought out as some of them still hold the archives of the old family business.

This survey has confirmed that these unique photographic productions are severely endangered by chemical, climatic and human factors and their digitisation is urgent. The team members have noted that in most of the cases, either the owners had destroyed whole collections for lack of interest or lack of space, or the remaining photographic material is in a state of severe degradation due to poor conservation conditions.

The project team were able to digitise a sample of around 1000 photographs from some of the studios surveyed, from private family collections, and from those purchased by the team in local second-hand shops.

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EAP737/4/3/8 - Events Negatives Box 30 [1962]

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EAP737/4/4/31 - Studio Portrait Photo Prints [1955-1978]

EAP691: Rare manuscripts of great Buddhist thinkers of Laos: digitisation, translation and relocation at the 'Buddhist Archive of Luang Prabang'

The project was able to describe and digitise the personal collections of manuscripts used by several great Buddhist abbots of Luang Prabang in Laos. The manuscripts present valuable insight into the diverse intellectual interests of leading Theravada thinkers of the 20th century in one of the least known Buddhist cultures in the world. Notwithstanding its rich culture, deeply influenced by Theravada Buddhism, Laos is still one of the least researched countries of Southeast Asia. During the second half of the 20th century, significant parts of the country’s cultural heritage have been destroyed, or seriously damaged, due to foreign interventions, civil war, and revolution. As a great surprise to international researchers, Buddhist monks of Luang Prabang, the ancient Royal capital, managed to preserve important parts of Lao heritage.

The project was able to describe and digitise the personal collections of manuscripts used by Pha Khamchan Virachitto (Vat Saen Sukharam), Pha Khamfan Silasangvara (Vat Suvannakhili), and Pha Bunchankeo Phothichitto (Vat Xiang Muan). Colophons and other paratexts (such as prefaces and titles) were transcribed into modern Lao. Roughly half of the manuscripts have such colophons which in most cases mention not only the date when the writing of the manuscript was finished, but also the names of sponsors and donors of the manuscripts and, more rarely, the name of the scribes. Preservation work has also been carried out on the original manuscripts which are now stored under safer and more accessible conditions

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EAP691/3/2/18 - Thanakhan Ban Pai ( fascicle no.5) (ທານະຂັນບັ້ນປາຍຜູກ 5) (1674)

EAP898: Myanmar negative record

This project aimed to set out to investigate the remaining negative archives and collections of local Burmese photographers. The project was able to identify two studios in Yangon that agreed to have some of the negatives in their archives digitised. The majority of the negatives come from the Bellay Photo Studio, with a smaller collection digitised from Asia Studio.

The owner of the Bellay Photo Studio, Tun Tun Lay, agreed to the digitisation of some of the negatives taken by his father, Har Si Yoi, starting in 1963, only one year after General Ne Win’s coup d’état. The images taken in the studio capture life during the so-called ‘lost decades’ and present a unique insight into this time period, as there are no archives in Myanmar or abroad that hold a comprehensive collection of images from those decades. Bellay Photo Studio is run by an ethnically Chinese family and many of the clients were Chinese-Burmese as well. A community that suffered greatly during Ne Win’s Burmese Way of Socialism; they were persecuted, their properties were nationalised, and finally a ban on Chinese-language education was issued, which forced a major exodus of Burmese-Chinese to other countries. The negatives at the studio used to be stored in two large wooden cabinets which were destroyed by termites and humidity along with more than 50% of the negatives. The loose negatives, which had been kept in envelopes, have been stored in plastic bags since 2012.

Another small but important archive of 134 negatives, including glass plates, was archived on the outskirts of Yangon. The grandson of the famed Asia Studio proprietor, U Kyawt, allowed the project to digitise a small section of his collection. The negatives and plates are stored in a wooden box without any kind of protection. The images include press photography capturing Aung San who is considered to be the Father of the Nation of modern-day Myanmar and a hero for his struggle for independence. He is also the father of politician and current Minister of Foreign affairs, Aung San Suu Kyi. The images were taken in the 1940s; Aung San was assassinated in 1947. The Asia Studio archive holds many more valuable images that are at risk due to the storage environment.

The digitised negatives form a very important record from after Myanmar’s independence and will allow not only researchers in the West but also Burmese to access the unique photographic culture of their past that documented everyday life and how Burmese citizens wanted to be portrayed. This is especially true for the images from Bellay Photo Studio, as they represent various communities of Yangon in the late 1960s and 70s.

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EAP898/1/1 - Asia Studio [1940s-1950s]

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EAP898/1/1 - Asia Studio [1940s-1950s]

EAP898_2_1-EAP898_BELLAY_STUDIO-4438_L
EAP898/2/1 - Bellay Studio [1969-1982]

02 February 2017

New collections online - January 2017

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Four new collections are now available to view on the EAP website. The teams involved have helped to preserve a wide variety of records including Peruvian parish registers, Romani archives, Russian Old Believers’ textual heritage, and Nyasaland African Congress records.

EAP699: Safeguarding of the intangible Romani heritage in the Republic of Moldova threatened by the volatilisation of the individual unexplored collections

Over the past few years, researchers from the "Roma Ethnology" working group, in the Ethnic Minorities Department of the Institute of Cultural Heritage, undertook a series of field trips to Roma communities. They located 11 ethnographic Romani groups in Moldova, each with its specific pre-modern culture. The best known of these are: Layesh (ex-nomads Roma group), Lautari (Roma musicians), Lingurari (Roma spoon makers), Chokanary (Roma blacksmiths), Churary (Roma sieve makers), Curteni (Roma servants to local noble courts). During these field research trips among the Roma community the researchers became aware of the existence of valuable archival materials kept in a state of neglect. Most of these sources (photographs, documents, and manuscripts) are kept in family archives. They are endangered for a variety of reasons. For example, when the owners of personal archives die, their descendants are not interested in preserving them, and there is little funding within the country for collecting and archiving them. These archives are gradually disappearing.

This project aimed to discover these collections of Romani archive material to preserve, digitise and make them publicly available for research. The project team were able to discover and digitise material from the families of some well-known Roma personalities from the past, as well as material from ordinary Roma families. The digitised material is now publicly available in the Moldovan National Archive, as well as the British Library, and is an important source of information for Romani studies. The project digitised 2557 images from 36 individual collections dating from between 1925-2013.

EAP699_16_2-EAP_699_16_Roma_Ciocanari_Riscani_19_L
EAP699/16/2 - Preida Iacov Collection - Roma Family-Military Album [1955-2010]

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EAP699/7/2 - Muzeu Ciocilteni Collection - Papers [1942-1986]

EAP834: Living or leaving tradition: textual heritage of the taiga Old Believers' skit

The aim of this project was to preserve the hand-written book collections of the taiga community of Pilgrims, one of the most radical denominations among Old Believers: confident in the coming of the Antichrist and who regard the authorities as his servants, and also believe that a skit (a small-secluded monastery or convent) is a perfect place where the Orthodox faith can be observed. They prefer to live a reclusive life with other believers as they think this protects the Christian faith and the soul. The Russian monarchy and Soviet power regarded them as irreconcilable enemies and repeatedly destroyed Taiga religious settlements.

The manuscripts of the 15th, 17th and 18th centuries represent the Russian Orthodox and Early Old Believers’ traditions, and their digitisation will help researchers to reconstruct the reading habits of the Siberian peasants-skitniks and the ways of ‘book migrations’. The manuscripts of the 19th and 20th centuries reflect late Old Believers’ traditions and they are interesting as examples of the Russian peasant religious literature. It is believed that approximately 66% of the books were written or rewritten by the skitniks.

The preserved texts contain unique historical and linguistic information and reflect the process and results of assimilation of the culture of Cyrillic writing and reading by Siberian peasants in the 19th and 20th centuries. The manuscripts were stored in poor conditions, exposed to moisture and temperature changes, and were being damaged by mould and migration of ink. In addition, the Skit monks were often forced to write using home-made ink or pencil on paper of poor quality.

The project digitised 144 manuscripts with over 22,000 pages copied. The manuscripts selected for digitisation are those that most adequately reflect the confessional strategy, preferences and history of the taiga community since its formation in the 1830s. These include 1. Liturgy and religious rites: Prayer texts, church calendars and descriptions of rituals and festivals; 2. Canon law and monastic rules; 3. Writings on Christian/Old Believers’ ethics and morals; 4. Religious polemics; 5. Religious poetry; 6. Community history.

You can read more about this project on the project homepage, as well as project holder Professor Elena Dutchak’s Libri journal article: Breathing Life into Rare Book Collections: The Digitization of the Taiga Skit Old Believers Library (Libri. Volume 66, Issue 4, Pages 313–326). We have also funded a similar project - EAP556: Book heritage of Ural Old Believers, which also has its own blog post with more information. EAP834_1_1_56-B-27666_001_L EAP834/1/1/56 - Theoktistos the Stoudite. The service for Jesus Christ [1950s-1960s]

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EAP834/1/1/41 - The Dominical letter // Вруцелето // Vrutseleto [1941]

EAP783: Digitisation, preservation and dissemination of parochial books and matrimonial records prior to the establishment of the Civil Registry in Peru

This project digitised parish registers detailing baptisms, marriages and deaths in the Diocese of Huacho, Peru. Six parish collections were digitised: Parish of San Miguel Arcangel of Acos; Parish of Nuestra Señora of the Asunción of Ámbar; Parish of Santa María Magdalena of Cajatambo; Parish of Inmaculada Concepción of Canta; Parish of San Juan Bautista of Churín; Parish of San Juan Bautista of Huaral.

These documents are of great value as in the majority of cases they are the only records of birth, death and marriage that exist for citizens of Peru. In 1852 the Civil status records were created but this function was first entrusted to Governors, and then to the municipalities under the supervision of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Republic. Consequently, the records of the Civil State in Peru lacked a hierarchical organisation as their offices and files were dispersed in more than 2,500 locations, with no national or regional registers of births, deaths or marriages. For this reason the majority of citizens born before 1940 have great difficulty locating their records.

EAP783_1_6_1-EAP783_AMB_DEF_02_1901_1944_002_LEAP783/1/6/1 - Books of Deaths-Parish Nuestra Señora of the Asunción of Ámbar [1901-1940]

EAP942: Preserving Nyasaland African Congress historical records

The pilot project surveyed Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) records in selected districts in Malawi in order to assess the state of records, their storage conditions, and determine the extent as well as the preservation needs. The project created an inventory of the records and digitised a small selection of the identified records including minutes of meetings of the NAC; the NAC constitution; editorial comments of Malawi News pertaining to the Malawi Congress Party (MCP - successor organisation to NAC); photographs of the late Hon. Aleke Banda, a prominent nationalist and politician.

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EAP942/1/3 - Photos of Aleke Banda

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EAP942/1/1 - Nyasaland African Congress Constitution of Organisation [1943]

01 September 2016

Call for Applications

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Do you know of any collections that are currently at risk and need preserving? The Endangered Archives Programme is now accepting grant applications for the next annual funding round – the deadline for submission of preliminary applications is 4 November 2016 and full details of the application procedures and documentation are available on the EAP website. This year we will also be accepting online applications.

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EAP843: Part of the Archibishopric’s Archive, Sandiago de Cuba. A pilot project undertaken in 2015 with a major project about to begin.

The Endangered Archives Programme has been running at the British Library since 2004 through funding by Arcadia, with the aim of preserving rare vulnerable archival material around the world. This aim is achieved through the award of grants to relocate the material to a safe local archival home where possible, to digitise the material, and to deposit copies with local archival partners and with the British Library. These digital collections are then available for researchers to access freely through the British Library website or by visiting the local archives. The digital collections from 165 projects are currently available online, consisting of over 5 million images and several thousand sound recordings.

This year we have started making our sound recordings available for online streaming and one of our most popular archives is the Syliphone Label.

The Programme has helped to preserve manuscripts, rare printed books, newspapers and periodicals, audio and audio-visual materials, photographs and temple murals. Since 2004 approximately 300 projects have been funded. Last year awards were given for projects based in Argentina, Bulgaria, Cuba, Ghana, India, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Malawi, Mexico, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan and Turks and Caicos Islands.

The following images give a sense of the type of material that went online over the past year.

Image 4EAP692/1/1/2  Alagar kovil Kallalagar Inner Mandapa Ceiling East [17th Century]. Part of the pilot project to digitise temple murals in Tamil Nadu. The team have now started a major grant.

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EAP727/6/25: བླ་མའི་རྣལ་འབྱོར་བསམ་པ་ལྷུན་འགྲུབ་དང་མྱུར་འགྲུབ་མ་བཞུགས་སོ།། (bla ma'i rnal 'byor bsam pa lhun 'grub dang myur 'grub ma bzhugs so) [Mid-19th century]. Tibetan Buddhist manuscript from Amdo, PR China

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EAP755/1/1/86 Mendoza. Photographs taken by Annemarie Heinrich, Argentina. The team working on this project have also been awarded  a major grant.

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EAP856/1/6 Journal du Premier Ministre Rainilaiarivony (Tome III) [May 1881 - Sep 1881]. 19th century archives written by Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony (written in Malagasy.  Another project is also underway on Madagascar.

So, if you know of an archive in a region of the world were resources are limited, we really hope you will apply. If you have any questions regarding the conditions of award or the application process, do email us at endangeredarchives@bl.uk

14 January 2016

A Living Archive - Emmanuel M. Mbwaye, Bokwango (Cameroon)

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The African Photography Initiatives has just completed its two years project (EAP542) to partially digitise and conserve the archive collection of the Photographic Information Service in Buea, Cameroon. The collection contains images documenting “all the official ceremonies and things of general interest”(1) taking place in the Anglophone part of Cameroon between 1955 and 1980.

NEE_4611Federal Information staff celebrates Christmas, 1970. © MINCOM Cameroun

During the course of the project approximately 4,000 groundsheet dossiers (14,000 individual pages) and 26,152 negatives covering some 35 years of Anglophone Cameroon’s history were digitised and a database established.

NEE_8792Emmanuel M. Mbwaye, ca. 1980. © MINCOM Cameroun

If we wanted to give a face and a name, which is closely connected to this collection, we would immediately refer to the photographer Emmanuel M. Mbwaye (b. Bokwango 1928), the Photographic Information Service’s first photographer. Even though he retired 30 years ago, he retains very strong links with the collection and supports any initiative which helps to sustain this important visual heritage.

NEG_5236Emmanuel M. Mbwaye on his way to the South West Regional Delegation of Communication, 2013. © Rosario Mazuela

He learned photography from the Colonial Films Unit CDC (Cameroon Development Corporation) in the early 1950s. In 1964, he received a British council scholarship to study photography at Blackpool Technical College Young School of Arts, England. During that period he worked with the Information Service London and the Daily Mirror newspaper. In 1977, he received another scholarship to study in Italy where he did colour photography and television at Naples’ Channel 21. In the course of his professional career he trained many photographers and, as he said, “I’m satisfied that my knowledge has been passed to younger generations” (2). He was Head of the Photographic Section during the first part of his career and later became responsible for the Information Service’s Cinematographic Section.

NEG_8089Photographers covering the visit of President Tubman of Liberia to West Cameroon, 1962. © MINCOM Cameroun

A fervent advocate of the rights of the Bakweri people, Buea’s autochthon population, he tenaciously initiated and supported a great number of projects for the welfare of his community. Promoting health and education was most important to him. Together with Mrs. Ann Cross he created the first Buea Health Centre at Bokwango, organized baby shows (to reduce infant mortality), literacy campaigns, and, last but not least, acted as a referee for the Fako (the region of which Buea is the centre) wrestling competitions. “He not only loved development”, said Chief Litumbe George about Pa Mbwaye, “he was also very clear about human rights”. Against this backdrop, the creation of the Fako Division Tourism Board in the 1960s, which focused on the touristic development of Limbe and Foumban as well as the function of Chairman he exercised for many years, was only the next logical step.

NGT_1187Grand wrestling contest in Buea. Pa Mbwaye (as a referee) participating in the libation ceremony, 1980. © MINCOM Cameroun

In this post we want to present some pictures from the EAP542 collection which show the wide spectrum of Pa Mbwaye’s interests and activities. As much as he loved to be the man behind the camera he enjoyed his role in the limelight of social recognition, which he well deserved. Often, he, himself, was the “event to cover”.

NGT_2451Photographers' seminar in Yaoundé, 1977. © MINCOM Cameroun

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Visit of the International Women Club Douala and presentation of gifts to the Ann Cross Health Centre Bokwango, 1983. © MINCOM Cameroun

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Fako Wrestlers Association contest in Douala during the "Ngondo" ceremony,  1972. © MINCOM Cameroun

These images are only a few examples of many more which the South West Regional Delegation of Communication keeps in its treasure chest, the Buea Press Photo Archives.

(1, 2) Statements from Emmanuel M. Mbwaye in the program “Emmanuel Moanga Mbwaye. Photography Icon. Beacons of Time. CRTV. 2013 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yr2Vd0IrrRg)

Rosario Mazuela

African Photography Initiatives

It is hoped that EAP will receive the appropriate permissions so that we can make this material available online.

16 December 2015

Using face recognition to find an EAP Christmas Card

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Professor David Zeitlyn has written our final guest blog for 2015, again it is related to the British Library's current exhibition on West Africa. The post informs us about what can be discovered using face recognition software  - and it has a wonderfully festive theme.

The generous support of the Endangered Archives Programme enabled us to work with a Cameroonian studio photographer, Jacques Toussele, to archive his collection of negatives (and some remaining prints). The results are now available via the EAP catalogue (see descriptions in Zeitlyn 2010a and 2015)  

Zeitlyn16Jacques Toussele in 2001. Photo by author, CC BY-NC-ND.

The collection is a rare archive of local photographic practices which, because until relatively recently Mr Toussele was still working in the community where they were taken, have been documented with his assistance thus rendering the archive considerably more important for the future than a bare collection of negatives alone. Working with some helpers, he was able to recognise a few of the people in the photographs, enabling future research to be undertaken, which greatly enhanced the importance of the archive. The archive we have established enables scholars to raise a wide range of issues about the presentation of self, changing fashions and global patterns of influence as mediated by local norms of appropriate behaviour in public.

The convention among studio photographers in Cameroon (and elsewhere in West Africa) was that there was a two tier pricing structure. Clients paid a certain amount per print but had to make an additional payment if they wanted the negative as well. Strictly, therefore, the archiving project is concerned only with the negatives which the clients chose not to redeem.

Uses of Photographs

Clients commissioned photographs from studio photographers such as Photo Jacques for many reasons, but overwhelmingly the commonest reason was the requirement in Cameroon law for adult citizens to carry valid Identity Cards (which since the 1950s have included photographs). Once commissioned, the negative used to produce the passport style ID card photograph could also be used to produce other styles of prints. For example, I have discussed elsewhere (2010b) the style of photograph required by the state for the marriage certificates which document civil weddings.

As we shall see, these have another life in archives other than the municipal civil registry. Although photographers such as Jacques were sustained by the need for ID photographs such administrative requirements did not fully determine the sorts of images taken. They provided a secure economic basis for the studios, which also meant that for the clients the cost of other photographs was affordable.

In some cases a single print or image has had different uses at different points in time: the ID photos of the elderly are in many cases the only surviving photographs of grandparents. After their death the ID card may be copied so an enlarged print could be made of the passport photograph for display at the funeral and then hung on the wall of a surviving spouse or child.

Having established the archive the challenge has been how to start using it in research. One set of issues is posed by the lack of metadata. Unlike some other West African photographers (Augustt discussed by Werner or the better known case of Seidou Keita) Jacques Toussele did not maintain detailed records about his photographs. Although as part of the EAP project we did some basic cataloguing, one thing that background research in Mbouda has revealed is that local traditions are such that knowledge of names is not widely disseminated. A person may be recognised in a photograph and there may be agreement among informants (eg the cataloguers and Jacques Toussele himself) about their occupation and the village where they live, but no one would know their name, or at best a Christian name or nick name. Jacques Toussele, himself, was widely known as Photo Jacques but outside his immediate family few know his full name.

As a small step towards putting some order into the archive, I have done some collaborative research with colleagues (Andrew Zisserman and Omkar Parkhi) in the Oxford Engineering department to see how face recognition can help (see Zeitlyn et al 2010 for early experiments). One immediate task was being able to identify original negatives for the prints in the archive. There are a few actual prints which were either never collected or were test prints which had been filed rather than discarded. There are also some instances of negatives which are copy photographs. Someone will have come to the studio with a print and asked for a literal ‘photo copy’. When the original had been taken by Jacques Toussele, the negative may still exist in the archive but without a catalogue (metadata) it was impossible to locate. This is where face recognition, or in some cases pattern matching, can help match the print and original negative.

  A   B

EAP054/1/161/248 Negative (dvd226_129)

EAP054/1/66/150 Double print eg for ID card or other administrative use (dvd297f1_017)

There is a further use which is topical: the recycling and refashioning of photographs by cutting, pasting and re-photographing to create family Christmas cards. Although not common in the Jacques Toussele archive, they do help us get a handle on the question of completeness: just how many other photographs were taken but which have not survived? It also allows us to explore how, over time, negatives might have moved accidentally between storage boxes.

So consider this Christmas card image

EAP054_1_37-dvd246_018_LEAP054/1/7 dvd246_018

It was found in EAP054/1/37 box38 Old red Obi Brothers photographic paper box, which had 01/10/1990 written on the outside of the box. Using face recognition we were able to match several of the constituent images in this collage with prints in a mixed box of passport size prints (EAP054/1/93: Jacques Toussele Photographs: box 100 [c 1990])

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EAP054/1/93/2 box100 dvd278_056 (top: north) 

2
EAP054/1/93/3 box100/dvd278_057 (bottom: south)

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EAP054/1/93/4 box100/dvd278_058 (north-east) 

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EAP054/1/93/5 box100/dvd278_059 (south-west) 

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EAP054/1/93/6 box100/dvd278_060 (south-east) 

Other possible matches were

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EAP054/1/2/201 box2/dvd99_070 

and  

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EAP054/1/2/121 box2/dvd101_121 

Of the nine images in this collage, face recognition locates five as well as identifying some possible matches which my human eye rejects. Sadly we cannot find the central image of the adults. Most of the matching images were in a box of miscellaneous passport size prints. In one case the print has been trimmed to the oval matte clearly visible on the Christmas Card. The other trimmed prints have not survived, nor have the negatives from which they come. So we have some evidence for how much more has been lost than exists in the material that we have been able to archive. I don’t take this as bad news. Any archive is always incomplete, and one of this nature perhaps more than most. As a seasonal reflection I think that demonstrating that it is possible to do any matching within the archive is an extraordinary finding and one that promises much for the new year.

Further reading

Introduction to the project

Zeitlyn, David. 2015. "Archiving a Cameroonian photographic studio." In From Dust to Digital: Ten Years of the Endangered Archives, 529-544. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0052.16

Zeitlyn, David. 2010a. "Photographic Props / The Photographer as Prop: The Many Faces of Jacques Toussele."  History and Anthropology 21 (4):453- 477. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02757206.2010.520886.

Other work cited

Werner, J.-F. 2014. De la photographie africaine en tant qu’innovation technique. Continents manuscrits COMA

Zeitlyn, David, Ananth Garre, C. V. Jawahar, and Andrew Zisserman. 2010. "The Archive. Where Is the Archive?"  Photography & Culture 3 (3): 331–342. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/175145109X12804957025679.

Zeitlyn, David. 2010b. "Representation/Self-representation: A Tale of Two Portraits; Or, Portraits and Social Science Representations."  Visual Anthropology 23 (5): 398 – 426. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08949460903472978.

 

 

03 December 2015

Archive of Malian Photography

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This is the third blog in our series celebrating West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song, the current exhibition at the British Library. This time we are delighted to have a piece written by Dr Candace Keller who was the grant holder for EAP449.

 

Mali has remained the international nexus of African photography for over twenty years. Since 1994, its capital has been home to the Rencontres de Bamako photography biennial and has produced some of the continent’s most globally renowned professional photographers.

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In collaboration with the British Library, the National Endowment for the Humanities, MATRIX: The Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Maison Africaine de la Photographie in Mali, Michigan State University has been digitising, cataloguing, rehousing and will make available about 100,000 negatives from the archives of the nation’s prominent photographers Mamdou Cissé (1930-2003), Adama Kouyaté (b. 1927), Abdourahmane Sakaly (1926-1988), Malick Sidibé (b. 1936), and Tijani Sitou (1932-1999).

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Photography was introduced to present-day Mali during the 1880s by French military officers and, later, colonial administrators, missionaries, and expatriates. By the 1940s, an African market for photography had developed in the French Sudan, as Mali was then known, and its professional photographers maintained a monopoly over the medium until the 1980s.

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EAP449/2 Abdourahmane Sakaly, Portrait of Two Men in the Studio, Bamako, January 1958

As a result, their archives contain rare visual documentation of social, cultural, and political life as well as processes of urban development in the country and in French West Africa more broadly. Spanning the eras of colonialism, political independence, socialism, and democracy, their archives record important transformations in Mali’s capital and smaller towns along the Niger River such as Mopti and Ségu during the twentieth century.

4EAP449/1 Mamadou Cissé, Hunter’s Festival, Ségu, 1967

  5EAP449/1/1 Mamadou Cissé, Malian President Moussa Traoré and Senegalese President Léopold Sedar Senghor at the Senou airport, Bamako, c.1972

Employed by colonial and national governments, while operating private studio enterprises, each photographer’s collection houses unique perspectives on local histories and practices, including personal and family portraiture, military activities, visits of foreign dignitaries, and images of the 1968 and 1991 coup d’états. They also feature the construction of national monuments, governmental structures, bridges, dams, roadways, as well as prominent religious leaders, political figures, cultural ceremonies, and fluctuating trends in personal adornment, popular culture, and photographic practices from the 1940s to the present. 

6EAP449/1/1 Mamadou Cissé, Portrait of a Woman, Ségu, c.1960

7Malick Sidibé, Group Portrait, Bamako, November 1978

Funded by the British Library's Endangered Archives Programme and the National Endowment for the Humanities Preservation and Access division, since 2011, this project has worked to address the following significant needs for international scholarship and the preservation of Mali’s cultural heritage because:

  • Archives are not catalogued, appropriately preserved or accessible for research and education
  • Materials are vulnerable to mistreatment, theft, and exploitation due to their global commercial value
  • Harsh climactic conditions jeopardize their physical integrity

8Abdourahmane Sakaly’s archives, Bamako, 2010

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Mamadou Cissé’s archives, Bamako, 2011

To preserve and promote Mali’s cultural heritage and the artistic legacies of these photographers, this project ensures that:

  • Archival collections remain in Mali
  • Negatives are better protected and preserved
  • High-resolution scans are preserved
  • Low-resolution copies are made freely accessible online
  • A digital repository is managed by MATRIX at Michigan State University
  • Access in Mali is provided by the Maison Africaine de la Photographie

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Moussa Kalapo, Archive of Malian Photography, Bamako, 2014

12Archive of Malian Photography website under production, November 2015. Website will launch December 2015

These primary sources are significant contributions to global histories of photography as well as historical and cultural studies of western Africa. Valuable for a wide range of audiences, from interested lay persons to photographers, scholars, and students, they benefit teaching and research around the world across a variety of humanistic disciplines, such as history, anthropology, political science, art, aesthetics, and African studies.

As part of the Archive of Malian Photography project, 28,000 negatives by Abdourahmane Sakaly and Mamadou Cissé are now accessible on the British Library’s database under EAP449.

 

Abdourahmane Sakaly (1926-1988) Bamako  

Sakaly was Senegalese (of Moroccan heritage) and came to Bamako in 1946. There, he began practicing photography and opened Studio Sakaly in 1956. From the late ‘50s to the ‘70s, his studio experienced great success. In addition to portraiture, Sakaly documented social events and private functions for the military, police officers, and other elites in the city.

 

Mamadou [Mohammed] Cissé (1930-2003) Mopti, Ségu, Bamako

In 1949, Cissé learned photography in Mopti. He joined the French colonial army in 1952 which sent him to Senegal, Vietnam, Laos, and Algeria where he took portraits and identification photographs. After Malian independence in 1960, Cissé became a photographer for the Malian army and for the national news agency (A.N.I.M.), which sent him to Ségu to open and direct a studio. When A.N.I.M. (today A.M.A.P.) closed its operations in Ségu during the ‘80s, Cissé returned to Bamako to work at the agency’s headquarters and remained there until 1986, when he retired two years after opening Studio Cissé.

 

For questions or more information about this project, please contact Candace M. Keller, Project Director and Associate Professor of African Art, Michigan State University: kellercm@msu.edu

For more on the exploitation, theft, and pilfering challenges this project seeks to address, consult: C. Keller, “Framed and Hidden Histories: West African Photography from Local to Global Contexts,” African Arts 47, 4 (Winter 2014): 36-47.