Photographers and Archives: Preserving the Archive with Alison Nordström and Hilary Roberts

January 21, 2021
10:00–11:15AM EST
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Photo by Hilary Roberts. Censored 1941 press print from the British Ministry of Information Archive at Imperial War Museums, London.

In a unique series of conversations moderated by Paul Lowe, two of the world’s leading curators of photography and long time friends and collaborators — Alison Nordström, independent curator, and Hilary Roberts of Britain’s Imperial War Museum — will draw on their vast professional experience to consider how archives are created, what is involved in maintaining them for future generations, and issues associated with their exploitation. This exceptional and rare opportunity will be invaluable for photographers, editors, curators, researchers and anyone involved in photography at any level.

Session 1. Creating the Archive (January 7)

Potential topics:  What is an Archive (including the difference between a collection and an archive)? Who creates an archive? What is its purpose? What should be included (proactive vs passive collecting)?  How should it be organized? What is the cost of creating an archive?  What is its value? What are the essential decisions when creating an archive? Differences between an individual artist’s archive and institutional archives. Case studies: different kinds of archives. What happens when your photographs become part of an institutional collection?

Session 2. Preserving the Archive (January 21)

Potential topics:  Preserving images and preserving objects. Stages of archive preservation and management (short, medium, long term);  Past versus Present Practice (format issues, accountability, ethics, due diligence) The importance of collaborative relationships; Roles of the Photographer, the Photographer’s Representatives, Museum, Libraries and Archives; The Acquisition Process; Collections Management & Interpretation;  How the archiving process supports the evolution of interpretation and understanding; What are the essential decisions when preserving an archive?

Session 3. Accessing the Archive (February 4)

Potential topics:  How will your photographs outlive you? How will they be seen? Who uses archives, why and how?  What are the potential benefits?  How do you balance access and preservation needs?  How do you fund archives?  Are they viable sources of revenue?  What is the future of archives in the internet age?

About the Speakers

Alison Nordström is an independent scholar and curator affiliated with the Peabody Museum, Harvard University. Formerly Director and Senior Curator of the Southeast Museum of Photography and Senior Curator of Photographs/Director of Exhibitions at George Eastman House, she was artistic Director of Fotofestiwal Lodz, Poland, in 2015 and 2016, and curator of “Joan Fontcuberta: Crisis of History” for the Hamburg (Germany) Photographic Triennial in 2018. She holds an MLS with Museum Emphasis and a PhD in Visual and Cultural Studies. She was born in Boston and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Alison is a photographic generalist with a particular interest in the shaping of collections and the construction of the field’s various histories as art, anthropology and journalism. She has published more than 100 books and essays on photographic subjects, among them Truth/Beauty: Pictorialism and the Photograph as Art, 1845-1945 (2008), “After New” in New Topographics, (2009), Lewis Hine (2011), “On Becoming an Archive” in Reading Magnum: A Visual Archive of the Modern World (2013) and “Photographs and Materiality” in The Routledge Companion to Photography and Visual Culture (2018). At Eastman House she was responsible for a photographic collection numbering in the millions, including such important archives as those of Lewis Hine, Gertrude Kasebier, and Alvin Langdon Coburn. Today she works as a writer and curator with collectors, archives and practitioners on subjects as diverse as 19th century ethnographic photographs and contemporary documentary practice in Cuba.

Hilary Roberts is Senior Curator of Photography at Imperial War Museums (IWM), Britain’s national museum of modern conflict.  She was born in Nottinghamshire in 1957 and grew up in Hertfordshire.  Hilary studied at universities in England and Germany before joining IWM’s Photograph Archive as a junior curator in 1980. As the Archive’s Head Curator (1996 – 2013), she led the development of IWM’s photographic collections which have doubled in size during her career at IWM and the Archive’s transition to digital technology.  Since 2013, she has concentrated on research in her specialist field.

A specialist in the history and practice of conflict photography, Hilary has numerous publications and exhibitions to her name, including IWM’s highly praised trilogy of exhibitions Don McCullin: Shaped by War (2010-2012), Cecil Beaton: Theatre of War (2012) and Lee Miller: A Woman’s War (2015 – 2016).  She oversaw the acquisition of the Tim Hetherington Archive for the IWM in 2018.

Hilary works closely with photographers, curators, researchers and writers who document or respond to contemporary conflict.   In recent years, she has collaborated with a range of gifted photographers including James Nachtwey, Paulo Pellegrin, Sergey Ponomarev, Marissa Roth, Edward Barber, Edmund Clark, Nick Danziger and Donovan Wylie.  She received the Royal Photographic Society Award for Curatorship in 2017.

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