on Asia-Pacific Forum for Library and Achives Management
Bangalore, India, UTC- June 1-30, 2004
Week 3: Conservation and Management of Photography
Hon. Lecturer in Non-Western History
University of Basel
A chronology of key technical developments in photography
of importance for mission and church archivists, based
on experience with the mission archive in Basel.
(1) Mission and church archivists need perhaps to
know when the main technical developments in the history
of photography took place. But they also need to be
aware the application of new techniques in church
and mission is often delayed by scarcity of money.
(2) producing a simple schema for the technical history
of photography before 1914 is not easy. Different
photographic techniques were being developed and in
their competition with one another some were losing
out. Indeed this is a time when there was acute nationalistic
competition in science and technology at least between
European nations. Also the general situation in the
use of photo techniques was probably different in
each of the major western nations. “Globalisation”
in this field occurs only with the development of
firms like Eastman Kodak in the early 20th century.
one: 1839-ca. 1880. A photographer had to be his own
simultaneous development of daguerrotype and calotype
photography in France & Great Britain.
1850: development of a further and then very widely-used
photographic technique: the wet plate collodium process.
three processes demanded high technical skills......wet
plate collodium photography involved ca. 20 separate
hand operations with chemicals to produce a developed
and fixed negative.
even while photography was a laborious and uncertain
activity you find it being used in the framework at
least of European missionary societies (What was happening
in the U.S.A?) The first exponent of photography known
to me remains the LMS mission executive William Ellis
during his visit to Madagascar in 1852. From 1860
in the world of the Basel and Bremen missions each
“mission field” (with the exception, as
far as we can see, of China in the Basel Mission)
had one missionary who was taking photographs. Any
missionary society at work in the 3rd quarter of the
19th century must have had some sort of policy on
photography: was it going to use photography? And
if so how was this going to be organised?
the third quarter of the 19th century it is also clear
that photography was putting down roots outside Europe
and North America. In the major ports from Madeira
to Hong Kong professional photographers were setting
up shop, and the colonial gentry was taking up photography
as a hobby. Photography as an activity might penetrate
inland, as in India, if supplies could be obtained
and there was some sort of market. Someof these professional
and hobby photographer were Europeans, but increasingly
both groups of photographers included indigenous people.
Indeed, if the history of missionary photography was
completely unknown 20 years ago, now it is the unknown
history of photography in the major regions of Asia
and Africa which demands lots of energetic reseach!
and church archivists should in any case be aware
of the fact that important holdings of photographs
from this epoch seem to have disappeared (photographs
from some of Livinstone’s expeditions to Africa
e.g.! No doubt there are Asian parallels).
2. ca. 1880 till ca. 1914. Industrially-produced dry-plate
negatives are available for immediate use.
the first time taking photographs seems to have become
a relatively straightforward process. Judging by the
Basel Mission the number of missionaries taking photographs
increased considerably. In the expanding mission field
in Cameroon e.g. it seems that a camera accompanied
each major journey of exploration into unknown parts
of the interior from 1890.
3. Development of simple snapshot cameras and wind-on
film, especially from 1920 onwards.
Basel we note a considerable loss of quality and significance
in mission photography in the inter-war period. Taking
photographs was widely practised. There were people
working for the organisation achieving a professional
or semi-professional level of photography. It seems,
however, that most members of the organisation who
took photographs did not have training at this level.
The possibility of taking snapshots easily, stopped
people from thinking about the composition and the
message of their pictures as carefully as they had
done in the past.
4: Improving cameras, increasing use of colour photography
the moment in Basel the huge photographic holdings
which were generated after 1945/50 have not yet entered
the responsibility of the archive. But it seems to
me to be generally true that during the second half
of the 20th century large numbers of technically high-quality
images will have been produced by missionary society
workers,, and indeed up to the late 1990s there were,
in the Mission House in Basel (as with the other German
mission headquarters I know) professional photographers
responsible for taking photographs, and also responsible
for storing and making accessible the collection of
recent and contemporary photographs (partly stimulated
by new publication possibilities – see the parallel
chronology on publicaton possibilties, para 3B). I
wonder, incidentally, how many missionary societies
you could find with significant professional photographers
on their staff whose parents had been on the mission