Conservation and Management of Photography (2c)

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 (2c)

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

2C Some practical implications of this outline review of the history of photography and reproduction

An archivist needs to be aware that 150 years ago photography was a rare and difficult craft.

He/she also needs to reflect on the fact that it has become, in recent decades, a huge international industry and an activity in which there are many professionals, but also hundreds of millions of ordinary people walking around the world with cameras in their hands. Indeed, they say that, at the moment, in a relatively small country like Sweden, one million photographs are taken each day on average, every day of the year. In countries where average incomes are smaller the numbers of photographs being taken will be less. But they will still have grown exponentially since the Second World War.

So we need mental guidelines for our work. These will be somewhat different for each different archive, each different situation. But they will need to address the following questions:

- when do photographs stop being rare documents in the regions which my particular archive covers?

- how do I cope with the problem of the vast flood of photographs being produced almost everywhere by the end of the 20th century?

In Basel we say that for the regions where we collect photographs they stop being rare documents in about 1914. Up to that date we collect virtually everything we can lay hands on (including albums in which photographs have seriously faded or decayed, and including photographs which are technically not very good). From that date on, however, we are going to have to be selective in deciding what to keep. And in my opinion every archive will have to develope at least informal guidelines about selection. Though the date when scarcity turns to plenty may well be different in every region.

Selection is, however, a difficult skill. What criteria do you apply for selecting photographs to become part of your archive, and for deciding what photographs to turn away? My only advice is to be broader, rather than narrow, in your selections.

- Don’t be trapped, for instance, into collecting only photographs of church buildings and portraits of christian individuals and groups.

- Don’t forget that researchers can sometimes take a photograph which seems to you quite boring and insignficant, and make it a photograph of real significance. If in doubt, include a photograph or an album IN!! We should have a place in our hearts and archives for the unusual!

Fundamentally: remember that the church serves society - that is part of Christian outreach. Remember that the gospel comes to its full meaning for the people around us when it supports and guides them in their lives. So the church fellowship reaches out beyond its narrow institutional life. In a rural area, for instance, the church as institution may be concerned about the economic viability of farming families, or the survival of the families of rural labourers, or the standards of local traditional courts with their traditional local officials. As archivists we should be interested in documenting the contexts in which our churches work, and that applies to photographs too.

Finally, remember the archivists’ outreach! One of the important tasks of a church archive is pull interesting non-christian researchers into contact with the church and its fellowship. And we don’t do that by running archives which are narrowly ecclesiastical.

P. J. Basel 9.6.2004

Contact Persons *

Mrs. Elizabeth T. Pulanco, Convenor, email:
Mr. Yesan Sellan, Secretary,,

Copyright ForATL 2007. All rights reserved.

webdesign by: Hilda V. Putong@2003-2009