Conservation and Management of Photography (2b)

Seminar-Workshop on Asia-Pacific Forum for Library and Achives Management Training
Bangalore, India, UTC- June 1-30, 2004

Week 3: Conservation and Management of Photography (2b)

Paul Jenkins
Hon. Lecturer in Non-Western History
University of Basel

2B A chronology of key technical developments of importance for mission and church archivists in the USE OF PHOTOGRAPHS IN THE MEDIA (i.e. photographic reproduction in publications). Observations from the vantage point of Basel, continued.

Preliminary remark 1: NB the history of photography is complicated by the question of how photographs, once taken, could be used. The paper distributed with reference no. 2A is really about creating a negative. Ways of turning negatives into positives are not necessarily linked in terms of the technology used.

Preliminary remark 2: My main concern here is, however, not the production of individual photographic positives/prints but the use of photographs in the media, particularly printed publications and slide shows.

Preliminary remark 3: of course the use of photography in missions was driven by the organisations’ needs as communications networks. But it is not a good idea to interpret this statement in a narrow way and argue that mission photography is solely orientated to fund-raising – that missions are necessarily pioneer forms of today’s narrow-minded advertising agencies. Photographs taken for official use in missions and churches shade over, in any case, into the personal and family use of photography by missionaries and indigenous church people and their families. (NB I claim that in the Basel Mission fascination in one’s exotic environment was partly expressed by photography, among missionaries who exercised this skill. Collections of photographs still in family hands may well include a broader range of images of indigenous life than the photographs from the same photographer held in an official collection). (NB this all means that a good archivist wonders how the work of photography was organised in his or her mission or church, and whether photographs in private hands can be found which would enhance a church or mission archive).

Stage one. Use of photography in printed publications up to about 1880/90.

Judging by the results in Basel either there were, up to ca. 1890, no techniques for transferring photographs directly into book-printing, or they were far too expensive for a missionary society to use.

At this stage you do find situations in which missionary societies offer to distribute or sell original photographic prints to their supporters (Bremen Mission in the 1860s, CMS with albums which were sent from hand to hand among its supporters in the 1870s). But for use in periodicals photographs were “redrawn” with chisels and engraving tools on blocks of wood from which they could be printed. These are known as “wood engravings”.

I shall be showing an example of an original photograph, and the wood engraving based on it. In Central Europe it looks as if the engraver who made such engravings was a high-class craftsman who transferred the “Bildinformation” – the visual information contained in a photograph – accurately and to a very high degree.

As far as I know none of us have made comprehensive studies of the history of illustrations in mission periodicals 1840-1900. But if we want to reconstruct the history of insitutional photography relevant to our churches for which the originals have gone missing – or which have dropped back into a mass of unorganised photographs from many epochs found in some remote cupboard – this is one important starting place.

Stage 2 ca. 1890 to the present

From 1900 direct transfer of photographs into book- and periodical printing was doubt people interested in 20th century technology could work out the chronology of the key developments which have resulted, step by step, in the glossy coloured periodicals most of our organisations in Europe seem to put out nowadays.

There are, however, other important media of PR and information which use visual resources and which an archivist needs to remember

Supplementary Comments

There are, however, two other important media for PR and ifnromation which use visual resources, and which an archivist needs to remember.

1 Slide shows

One medium to which we should pay careful attention is the slide-show/lecture. Until recently this was still a king-pin of the Basel Mission’s contact with congregational groups supporting it. I am not sure exactly when the first slide-shows were produced, but it will evidently have been before the end of the 19th century. And more or less contemporaneously, it seems to me, slide shows were in use in overseas evangelism using pictures illustrating biblical stories.

It is worth while remembering, if you are an archivist with contacts to the “homeland” of missionaries who worked in your church, that old provincial mission centres in Europe and North America sometimes turn out to have stacks of dusty materials needing to be tidied away. And these may include old slide shows packed in the characteristic stout wooden boxes used to transport them. These are very precious. They give us an insight into the kind of photographs mission organisations endeavoured to possess, and how they used them. NB in Basel (and I think everywhere) a slide show was accompanied by someone reading out a prepared script with comments on every photograph. (By about 1970 these comments were put on tapes with musical accompaniment). So these materials not only give an important insight into the photographs in use, but also how people saw and interpreted them.

2. Film

One form of medium is outside my experience, and outside the framework of the theme I have been given – film. NB cine photography is also applied to mission surprisingly early – the 1910s and 1920s in central europe. Our ancestors were innovative characters who tried to keep up with the latest developments in communication. NB for me FILM requires expert treatment and conservation, especially if there is an intention to use old film for current public work. This is a field in which national film archives or partners in Europe/USA should be asked for
their help and financial assistance!!

PJ: Basel 8.6.2004

Contact Persons *

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