In a three-part conversation event moderated by Paul Lowe, curators Alison Nordström and Hilary Roberts draw upon their vast professional experience to consider how archives are created, what is involved in maintaining them for future generations, and issues associated with their access and exploitation.
Session 2: Preserving the Archive
- 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)
- Roles of the photographer, the photographer’s representatives, museum, libraries and archives
- The acquisition process
TRANSCRIPT: SESSION 2
Paul: So welcome everybody to the second in our series of presentations by Allison and Hillary about archives. Allison will explain a bit about what traditions today’s session is going to be more about. But today’s gonna be quite focused, I think on actual relationships and building relationships with potential institutions that you might want to work with to host your archive. And just a quick reminder that if you want to ask questions, you could put them into the Q&A box, and then we will field those towards the end of the presentation. Again, it’ll be about an hour long with Hillary and Allison talking for around 40 minutes, we’ll come back in again around that time to field any questions that you may have but without further ado, as they say, I’ll pass over to Hillary and Alison and they’ll explain to you what we’re going to be doing today. But welcome, everybody and 130 people attending. That’s fantastic.
Alison: Well, good morning from Boston. Good evening for the rest of the world. Two weeks ago, in our first session, we talked about what an archive is, and isn’t. What’s a collection? What’s the difference between an archive and a roomful of stuff? What’s the digital equivalent of a roomful of stuff? Today, we thought we would talk a little bit more, as Paul said, about specific relationships between individual photographers and institutions, which is obviously a huge topic but we thought we would start by talking a little bit about how you might assess your own archive your own collection, what’s in it? How might you describe it? How might you organize it or describe its existing organization in a way that will help you communicate to an institution, what you have, and you know why they might be interested in it. Secondly, we’re going to talk about kind of making the match, thinking about what kind of institution might be eager to become the custodian of your material. And I guess, again, to make clear that it’s probably not going to be the Museum of Modern Art. But that there are lots and lots of institutions that can house care for and use your material in the way that you might want them to and then we thought we would also talk about how things look from the institutional side, what happens after there’s an informal expression of interest on the part of someone in the institution? And what are the institutional steps that you might expect a proposed acquisition to go through. So that’s probably a year’s worth of talking and we’re going to do it in 45 minutes. But let’s jump in with the idea of looking at your own archive collection. What do you have? How do you know what you have? And how can you express what you have in a way that is interesting to other institutions? I don’t know Hillary, you probably get offered huge archives all the time.
Hilary: I do indeed and if I share my screen, very briefly give you an example of what an archive arriving in the roar might look like. So, just hold on a second while I do that, it is something that can consist of just one image or in fact, you know, an entire life’s work worth of photography. And the thing that you have to understand from the point of view of the institution is that they work under.. they are not the same as private collectors. They work under protocols, many of them enshrined in law and standards which they have to abide by. So they are not actually totally free agents in the decisions that they make and those protocols and those decisions are changing all the time. It is a very fast moving field. We are continually reassessing what we collect and how we collect and the implications that that means for the institution and the wider world. So for example, you know, we have a collecting policy, a collections development policy which we reassess every five years, which highlights areas where we actively want to collect. And those areas where we feel we have no more capacity.
Alison: Well, let’s, if we could, let’s just walk back a step. Because obviously, how the institution is going to respond to the suggestion that perhaps you want my archive is absolutely critical and understanding that is really critical. But I think, even before we get to that point, and even before we get to the idea of making a match with the right institution for what your stuff is, there has to be some sort of assessment by the photographer or the photographers heirs, of what’s there. And I want to look at the questions that raises I mean, it seems to me that one of them long before you start talking to an institution, like for example, what about outtakes? What about negatives that you never wanted to print? And, of course, the difference between an art museum and a history museum, and a science museum, and all of that is key. But I would like to think with the photographers and this is usually my first response to that phone call about, I have a roomful of stuff would you like it is, well, what is that stuff? And how can photographers kind of inventory their archive? I’m not suggesting recataloging. But how can they make a very simple sort of shelf level box level assessment of what they’ve got? What’s the best way to do that?
Hilary: Well, first of all, as part of your routine day to day working practices, you should be logging the work you do. So, obviously, in order to use your own work and sort of promote it, disseminate it, and so forth, you are doing that to some degree anyway. But what is needed is if you are talking about a mixed archive, one which includes work in different formats, you need to make sure that your inventory clearly delineates which kinds of work you have. So, many photographers have analog material, digital material, they are working also, in video, sometimes they are generating art, which is derived from other work and repurposing and reassigning. So the picture these days can get quite complex and so you are looking at sort of, there are various ways of doing it. But a simple way involves a spreadsheet listing with multiple columns and listings, maybe by year of the assignments, or the jobs or the projects and what they consist of so numbers, locations, ownership, dissemination, and of course, a very basic description who, where, when, what, and if possible, why?
Alison: I think that’s a really good way to be thinking about it. I mean, what you’re trying to convey is the scope of a life’s work. And at the same time, if that inventory can be broken up in some ways, so that when you do get into conversation with an institution, and the first thing they say is like, well, we don’t collect negatives, that you can either say, okay, thanks. I’ll talk to someone who does. Or you can say, I’ll easily take that off the list. And I mean, I’m aware of one institution that when they do acquire an archive, they literally want everything I mean, they have Eugene Smith’s laundry list, grocery shopping list.
Hilary: Contextual information is really important.
Alison: I agree.
Hilary: It adds up to the insight and understanding, so you need to be prepared for it not only to consist of the work, but although also the supporting work..
Alison: Tear sheets, and preferably, I think the whole magazine.
Hilary: Yes, it absolutely because that provides context. Things like equipment, examples of some examples of key cameras, for example..
Alison: I must tell you that one of the things I acquired with great joy at Eastman House was Eli Reed’s vest. Photographers vests of that kind, are about having lots of pockets to put film in. And it was no longer relevant to his working practice after he switched to digital. But for those of you who know Eli, he is also the largest photographer you will ever meet. And the vest, we somewhere we have a picture of four Junior curators wearing it at the same time. But the thing is that object told a really important story about the history of photography,
Hilary: Absolutely. So equipments, awards, notebooks, the development of ideas, very, very useful, fresh passes, exactly not courts, passports, and, you know, work diaries, it is absolutely wonderful to be able to look at a desk diary or a log daily log saying, London assignment or London, shooting X, Y, Zed, whatever it might be, that over the years adds an immense amount. So essentially, what you need to be prepared to do is to think that your archive is going to come in pretty much every format, that not only just the visual, but objects, sound, and ephemera, and so forth. What that means is that you may have hazards, what we call hazards, in your collection. So a curators role in having this initial conversation with the family or the photographer is, amongst other things to try and gauge risk. What might the risks be now, analog photography, sometimes there are materials in there that are problematic. And I’ll give you an example. A number of years ago, I worked with a photographer who covered the war in Vietnam, his collection included a US military watch, that watch turned out to have a degree of radioactivity in its file, which exceeded the legal permitted limits. In the UK, the result of that was that transporting that watch required a hazard vehicle all of itself, the rest of his archive, which was of immense financial value, was transported in one van, and this one was lead lined, and then the watch went back in his attic as far as I know. So anyway, I mean, you have to be prepared for the unexpected. And that is the role, or the institution needs to have the expertise to be able to gauge that risk.
Alison: Same time again, boy, there’s so much to say on this subject. While it’s possible that the institution will be interested in everything you’ve got, and recognizing that some of everything you’ve got, you need to tell them about it. It’s also possible that you will scare the curator you will I mean, this has happened to me on a number of occasions, there’s something that I’m interested in acquiring and suddenly the photographer is saying yes, and I have 100,000 color slides in a Tupperware bin unorganized and uncatalogued and you must take those too. So again, I think what we’re talking about is a give and take. But the assessment that you as the photographer make, even before you start looking for an institution is, I think, a really worthy exercise. And if there are things that you do want to sort of control the use of, or leave out or restrict in some way, getting that clear in your own head, I mean, even the question of, can they print the negatives that you never wanted to print? And if they, you know, all of those kind of institutional questions, if you’ve thought them through in your own head first, when you start looking to make the match, looking to find an institution, that’ll be helpful.
Hilary: So I mean, the starting point is to make sure your archive is organized. I mean, that’s a given that it is, that you have an accurate and up to date inventory. And if people would like guidance on what should go into an inventory and an easy way of doing it, I’m really happy to help with that. Evaluation is very, very important to an independent valuation, because these days, one of the things that is required is a level of approval, it’s no longer the case that a single curator can say, hey, we’ll have that thank you very much. And off we go. These days, the curator has to submit a case on behalf of the acquisition to their peers within the institution, the acquisitions committee, is the one that considers it and in one of the things that dictates who approves it, is the financial valuation which has to be independent.
Alison: In the States, it gets even more complicated than that, because there can be huge tax advantages to donating work to a museum. I know it’s different in the UK, it’s different in Canada, it’s different everywhere. But one of the one of the challenges with the way it happens in the States is that if it’s your work, you can only claim the value of the materials. If you give it to your mother, and your mother donates it to the institution, she can claim the fair market value. I actually spent a lot of time putting of artists together and they would swap prints and then make donations to my institution. But all of that is predicated on, yes, an independent appraisal by a certified, someone who has been licensed by the government to do these appraisals, even though we know that appraisals of large photography collections don’t have a great deal to do with the reality of what would happen if you dumped it on the market.
Hilary: Absolutely so. I mean, when valuation is being conducted, obviously, the inventory will be the starting point, the condition, the provenance, the history, the quality, the rarity factor, lots and lots of factors are taken into account. One point I should make is that if the valuation is older than two years old, it won’t be accepted. You’ll have to do it again. So it is something..
Alison: It may make sense to wait on the evaluation until you’ve done the organization part. And indeed, when there’s a glimmer of interest in the eye of an institution, because you’ve got a fairly, I mean, the time it takes to bring something in even after everyone wants, it takes a fairly long time. But let’s..
Hilary: I mean, yeah, sorry. Go ahead.
Alison: I just I, this is a very good transition to the notion of how you find how you make the match with an institution. And again, as I said it probably won’t be you know, the Museum of Modern Art. But I think photographers should really look hard at the contents of their archive, and think about who might be most interested in it and don’t overlook a regional Historical Society, if most of your work has been made in one place, or even a local library, university libraries are very rich, often having very rich photo collections.
Hilary: I think, you know, one of the key questions is to find out what professional standards institutions work to, and, you know, are they in a position to be able to afford to preserve the collection in the long term now? Now, sort of responsible institutions on grounds of ethics should not take on collections that they do not have the resources to look at. I mean, it seems self evident, but sometimes enthusiasm carries people away. The question of whether a collection should be preserved as a single unit, or dispersed is one that has been much debated over the years. And with photography, a great deal, it’s made more complex by the fact that photography is complex. You have multiple versions of images in print form, for example. So the question really, is about taking your time about this whole process. Do your research, get to know the institutions, institutions, curators. One of the responsibilities is to maintain an awareness of other institutions or collections and their collecting policies and make recommendations. In other words, somebody might come to me and say, I’ve got this archive, would you like it? I would say, well, that might not be the right, we might not be the right place for it. But I can give you a shortlist of X, Y, Zed, who might be.
Alison: I really come to think differently over the course of my career. I mean, I was trained with the notion that an archive should be as complete as you can make it, you really, if you if you can’t, you know. But I think that that idea is based on the idea that most research will be physical research in archives, you put it all in one place, because the different bodies of work talk to each other. And a researcher is going to go to one place and do that work. Now, obviously, these days, a photographic image can exist in in multiple locations. And the sort of flip-side of the idea of it has to be a single entity as complete as possible, is you put collections where the users of the collection are most likely to find it, and are most likely to be interested in it.
Hilary: That’s very true. An average photographer will cover, if they’re a documentary photographer, or working in fine art photography, will cover a diverse range of subjects and the likelihood of everything fitting neatly into one institutions collection is correspondingly reduced.
Alison: I agree. And I mean, I’m thinking of Constantine Manos, the Magnum photographer, whose Greek work, very early Greek portfolio work is at the Benaki. And they really wanted it, they were really interested in it. They had no interest in his photographs of Key West, or New Orleans. And I think there are lots of circumstances that justify placing a particular piece of an archive slash collection, into an institution that will use it and illuminate it and, you know, exhibit it and make it available to researchers and be a likely place where researchers are going to find it with all of our digital capacity. We still don’t have an easy way to find out who’s got the such and such material.
Hilary: That is the case, but it’s actually getting better. I mean, I think one of, you mentioned earlier about not scaring the curator. One of the things that scares a curator is when too many conditions and complications come with a collection. So this is not to say that we can’t work around them but the more complicated it is, the harder it is to make the case for acquisition.
Alison: The question of who gets copyright? Does the copyright go with the objects that are copyrighted? Or does it remain with the heirs? I think that’s a very common question that comes up, especially since the digital turn.
Hilary: Anything that will restrict an institution’s ability to make the material available and fulfill its remit, is no. A negative, a minus in the assessment column. Relationships with gallerists, and third parties, agencies and so forth are respected. The question always is given those relationships, is it still the right step to take on a collection like that? So one of the key things is to keep records of the relationships and the key relationships that photographers develop with their publishers and their disseminators. You know, what are the issues? If you can present a summary of that, to the curator, or institution, that’s an enormous help.
Alison: It’s also, it’s a matter of doing a kind of cold blooded assessment of what you’ve got in your room full of stuff. And, you know, to be able to say, oh, I have material related to the building of such and such a skyscraper, may be of interest, maybe the only thing of interest to a particular institution. And I do think that’s, that’s perhaps a good way to pursue moving your material institutionally.
Hilary: It really is, but also, I would say, don’t try and do it all on your own. I have always found that the best way of actually taking an inventory in an efficient and pretty rapid pace. Is for the, the holder of the archive, the creator of the archive, if they’re still available, to work with the curator in taking and reviewing a collection and having an ongoing conversation. I always put them into three categories category A, no question, no debate that must remain category C, no question that can go. The B category..
Alison: It’s that big middle category..
Hilary: ..Is where you have to and fro. And it’s immensely to the value of a curator or an institution to have that conversation because you learn so much about how a body of work came into being what’s happened to it, and so forth, which might not otherwise occur. So, I would say if you’re thinking about taking an inventory, there are basic ways to do it but work with someone who has some experience.
Alison: And yet the question remains, how, you know, how do you as a photographer, identify someone to even have that conversation with? And, that I think, again, I’m all about small institutions for which your exhibition, your collection might be a treasure, as opposed to gigantic institutions that may be already overwhelmed. And I’m interested in the holdings of university museums in particular and university libraries, in part because they often have sort of tame researchers who can be steered towards your material and that’s one of the things we’re going to talk about in session three is accessing the archive once it’s in an institution, but start by trying to establish again a human connection.
Hilary: Universities are a very good model, or very good point about what is the purpose, the primary purpose of an institution? So, is it a teaching collection? Does the institution itself give sufficient priority to the material in its care? Or is it if you like a sidebar? So if a financial crunch comes along, where are the cuts going to fall? And universities have done a wonderful job, you know, here, the University of St. Andrews, LCC itself, in London, many universities today are accredited to full professional standards, and they have the expertise, but the fact still remains that they, the main users of those collections, tend to be academic, in some way, shape, or form. And the challenge there is to build the wider public awareness to this material and you just have to make sure that that can happen.
Alison: Yeah, and I mean, that’s one of the things that conversation is about, but at the same time, your own research as a photographer, begins to raise the question, this institution has a very large collection of photojournalism from the Vietnam War. Does that mean they have enough? Or, does that mean they want more? And if you go to a curator with a question that is informed by knowledge of the institution, you’re going to get a useful answer. You go to the institution saying, I’ve got a roomful of stuff, you’re not going to get a useful answer, or you’re going to get an answer that is simply, thank you very much, but we don’t want it.
Hilary: So you do need to build relationships with curators and institutions and maintain them. I mean, often, professional photographers will already have examples of their work in multiple institutions around the world. But I think, take time over these relationships and, you know, just keep in touch with them. Because, I mean, to cite the example of the Tim Hetherington archive that process, took years and it took the trustees of the Hetherington trust, were very, very sensible in terms of, first of all, finding out what it was that they were already dealing with, what they had. And then thinking about what the purpose they wanted the archive to serve in the long term, how did they want this collection to be used, and by whom, and then having conversations with institutions, which might be relevant. And you know, they, I think, you know, they did everything right, in terms of the sort of conversations they had, the worst scenario that I ever experienced, is a phone call saying, I have to vacate this property in, well, next month..
Alison: I’ve had one of those.
Hilary: Oh, I’ve had multiple ones of those working, as I do in conflict imagery, and particularly with the British Ministry of Defense, who sort of have huge estates, and lots and lots of archives everywhere, this has been a very common scenario in my life. So it is possible to work quickly, I don’t want to do sort of give a suggestion that it’s not but you have to be prepared for if you are sort of managing an estate, for example, that estate may well have to go into commercial storage for a period of time. While you find a permanent home for that.
Alison: One of the complications that we have run into especially in New York State is that after a couple of scandals regarding deaccessions sessions of beloved things, not photographs, but beloved museum things that a law was passed regarding museum acquisitions that showed no understanding of the process at all. And basically, if you bring something into your institution, and care for it for a short amount of time, while you’re assessing it, by law, you have to treat it as though you’ve accessioned that even though you haven’t, which is a nightmare. It’s not the way this process works but we should talk about this process.
Hilary: Well, this process is is quite interesting. And I have in front of me, an interesting sheet. I’ll see if I can bring this up. Hold on. There we go. Let me just go to this. Okay, right. So I mean, just just, right. Where’s my, yep, there we go. Coming up, and screenshare. Right. Can you see my screen here? Yes. Good. Okay. So just to give you an example, this process that I have is rather pretty picture here are all the processes that happen when a collection enters my domain, all the green dots are mandatory. The red dots never happen and the yellow ones are optional. And at the top of the list, you might see entry. Entry is the point where something arises but hasn’t yet been accepted into the permanent collection. The process, the next step is acquisition and, accession and those are vital, because that is a legal process. It is the legal transfer of title..
Alison: From the private sector to the public sector.
Hilary: ..From one owner, to another owner, or institution. Underneath in blue, you’ll see exit disposal and deaccession. Exit tends to happen when people lend material for exhibitions or when people send material for assessment and it is not accepted, the whole process is documented. disposal and deaccession is something that happens very rarely. And it is very, very tightly controlled. But again, it is ending legal responsibility for a collection. So we could have in another entire session on the ups and downs of that. Then you have a whole, on the left, you have a whole list of yellow elements, which is all about this process that we’re talking about what happens when an archive or a photographer’s collection arrives with an institution and you can see right up at the top, there is inventory. Then there are other things such as labeling, cataloging, condition checking, conservation, etc, etc, etc. So you can sort of see just how much work is involved for the institution, once something enters its care. It’s all about accountability. You have a responsibility to the existing permanent collection, you have to make sure that nothing you do with regard to the incoming collection jeopardizes the permanent collection, but also you need to be able to show over time, every key decision that you have made regarding the welfare, the whereabouts and the interpretation of that collection. I’m sorry, go ahead. No, I’ll stop it there.
Alison: I mean, this is a this is a a frighteningly well organized operation, more complicated at first glance than anything we did at Eastman House but I think it’s still very important to be aware of who the actual decision makers are. In my case, in a much simpler institutional worlds, I would decide that I thought something belonged in the collection. And quarterly, I would have a meeting with my acquisitions committee, who were members of the Board of Trustees, so ordinary citizens who purported to have a specialized interest in photography, now many of them were private collectors in their own right, which is an interesting complication, too. There are ethical issues there, that can be very curious. But we would bring the material we were interested in to the acquisitions committee. Whenever I mean, obviously, if it’s a room full of stuff, you don’t show them the whole room, but you do bring them real things. And especially in the case of photographic art, we insisted on looking at real objects, we were not going to evaluate something on the basis of an image on a screen. And then the acquisition committee would vote, they would discuss at great length, and then they would vote yes or no, to bring something in, that then went to the full board of trustees. And only when that that now, never once in my case, did I have the Board of Trustees challenge the decision of the photographic acquisitions committee but they could. And the questions that often they would ask, had to do with physical capabilities. Do we have a place to put it? And hopefully, you know, it’s so big, we cannot get it through the door of the vault. And hopefully, the acquisitions committee had also addressed that, but legally, only when it had been approved by vote and entered into the minutes of the trustee meeting, did it become legally an acquisition, and then subject to all of the legal and ethical requirements with which we are charged.
Hilary: I mean, the it’s much the same for me, and for British collectors you. The day, as I said before, when a curator could say yes, on the spot, and long gone, and so it should be because what you are acquisition committee represents a cross section of the entire museum. So in other words, every element of the museum’s activity and function is represented, and is assessing the potential of this collection to support the work that they do. And when they approve the financial value, the independent valuation that I mentioned earlier, determines who is allowed to actually sign off. And so the trustees will sign off on the top level in terms of financial value but there is a sort of tiered arrangement below that, which I think represents the fact that, you know, the museum is a big institution with lots of resources to do that. But the point of this process is that a curator will be working very closely with the museum’s registrar to make sure that all the legalities and potential questions that the committee and the approver may ask so what you’re trying to do is to predict what questions and make sure you’ve got those answers.
Alison: And that’s, you know, for us, getting the conservators to weigh in was really important, because, I mean, I do remember one instance where the the the conservator said Well, before we can bring those into the vaults. We’ve got to get them out of those moldy back boards.
Hilary: This is what I was talking about in terms of your responsibility to the existing collection. If you have mold or infestation.
Alison: Inherent device, my favorite phrase.
Hilary: Yeah, any of the any of the things which might compromise the stability of the existing collection. I mean, you cannot imagine the damage that some insects can do. And insects…
Alison: I ran a museum in Florida, I know from insects.
Hilary: So, you know, these things you might not even be able to see but it is very important. And I mean, another area, which we haven’t really touched on at the moment, is the Bourne digital archive. And that, again, I would say, please manage your collection, I mean, not only for your own purposes, but for the future, make sure that the metadata is there, the file labeling is consistent. And what we do, we have two computing systems. One is collections management system, which all of these steps that I showed you, we also have a digital asset management system, I won’t show you the steps we have to go through to actually integrate digital collections into the collection. But believe me, that’s quite simple by comparison, and it’s about viruses get everywhere, computer viruses. The question of multiple versions of the same thing, ownership in file sharing. And often in conflict related collections, people accumulate material that other people have sent them but that trail of ownership is completely lost. And the number of times when I have been presented with a very interesting useful potential collection, only to find out subsequently that it was it represents the work of a dozen photographers, rather than one is something that needs to be remembered.
Alison: I’ve had that happen in analog files as well that, you know, a photographer who has been swapping prints with another photographer for years, she knows, which is hers, and which isn’t, but her heirs may not. I think that whole question of born digital material will want to come back to for session three when we talk about access. But I see that we’ve already hit the point where we want to go to questions. Because once again, we’ve tried to cover a huge amount of material in a short time but I hope it’s given people some ideas about the many considerations that are involved before you make that phone call to the curator, the more prepared you are both in terms of your own knowledge of your own material and knowledge of the institution, the more likely you’re going to be able to connect. But Paul, do you have questions? Have you found, I see lots of people are raising hands.
Paul: Yeah, they’re awesome questions. I’ll try and group them together a little bit. One very obvious one is, how do you find out how a particular museum what they’re interested in? So do museums or collections normally list somewhere the kind of material they’re interested in? And how you’d want access to collection policies of a particular institution?
Alison: I think they do. I think website research is a really good place to start. What are they exhibiting what are they exhibiting from their collections, there are a number of resources and Hillary and I in an excess of ambition, have decided that we are going to do some sort of very modest bibliography with a few websites that might be of value to people who’ve been interested in these three sessions. And we hope to have it by the time we’re done.
Paul: Another question, which is how do you find someone to evaluate or consider the worth of it? Are there appraisers that one can link to?
Alison: That’s pretty easy. That’s pretty easy. There are a number of I mean, I know in the back of photograph magazine, there’s always a list of certified appraisers in the States there is a an organization of certified art appraisers that is broken down by specialty in terms of, I’m a photo person. So I think that’s comparatively easy that Google is your friend there.
Hilary: And again, curators can assist so as part of the conversation with an institution they may have some suggestions about appraisal. What I would add is that valuing born digital collections is trickier than analog. And the other question, which is very tricky is the question is, what is the policy towards exhibition prints? And, you know, we’ve got a written policy on it all. There’s an awful lot of information on our website but different institutions have different perspectives on prints that have been produced to a very high standard for exhibition. So again, I would you can’t completely generalize but in some cases, the conversation with the photographer will be along lines of saying, yes, we want your collection, but we don’t want your traveling exhibitions.
Alison: Or, it may be we want your traveling exhibition, but we also want another set of prints that goes into deep cold storage.
Hilary: Absolutely. The question of duplicates, and surrogates and exhibition prints tenters, come under one of those two headings is something to discuss.
Alison: And it is very much about where to start that discussion but I think I think you can, by looking at museum websites, more and more museums are putting all or some of their collections online, you start by just if they have it by paying attention to exhibitions, they’ve done things from their collection. But I think, I guess I’m trying to think of research that the photographer can do before, she makes that phone call to the curator, because we’re busy, you know.
Hilary: There is, I mean, one of the advantages of all these standards and protocols is that institutions are required to publish the sort of information. You know, the smaller the institution, sometimes the harder pressed it can be to keep that information up to date. So look at the information that is available online and make a note of any questions you might have. Because hey, I mean, you know, why should everything be immediately comprehensible? And, and then feel free to, first of all, just ask for advice.
Alison: Yes, but, absolutely ask for advice and you’ll get it because that’s our job. Our job is to work with the world but the more informed your question is, both with knowledge of your own material and knowledge of the institution, the more likely you’re going to get advice. That’s helpful. And that’s, I mean, I think that’s the only thing you can do.
Hilary: Yeah, I would agree. Any more questions?
Alison: Paul, can we squeeze in one more?
Paula: Yeah, I think we can just squeeze in one, which is a sort of case study, if you like, this is asked by Paul Marotta quite early on. So he’s been documenting his local community in Arlington for 10 years, in a range of different ways and he reached out to the local museum or town in his place and they’re quite interested in the kind of then and now project and working with him to develop this longer term. How would you actually begin to think about structuring something like that? And what sort of workflow might you sort of produce, if you like, to make sense of it? So it’s trying to work with a possibly not even a museum, but a kind of local community to build an archive collaboratively, if that makes sense?
Alison: Well, you’ve already done the first most important thing is they’re interested and they have a particular idea about how they might use it and so that’s going to impose a kind of organizational structure on the material, you’re going to perhaps define a geographical area, you’re going to perhaps go by the date that the photograph has been made, it’s going to be very, very important. So talking with them about how they want to do it, how they want to integrate this material into material they already have seems like the logical place to start.
Hilary: And, again, think long term as well as in the present. The question, if it’s a community organization, often you have some wonderful people involved, if and when they are not around what happens next? And so think about making sure that the infrastructure to care for the material long term is going to be there and there are, again, various ways of doing that.
Alison: And the knowledge on the part of the institution that makes this material valuable to them, needs to be taken out of people’s heads, and put on paper.
Hilary: Everything, everything has to be written down. That is the basic tenant of all of it, that diagram I showed you, all of it is written down, and it forms part of the permanent record.
Alison: The opportunity to do oral history, at the point where something goes in even if it’s really, really basic, just recording people talking about the pictures as they see them. Particularly that kind of photo elicitation work, you’re not going to be able to do that 50 years later, or not without great, great difficulty. So again, it sounds like working with the institution to find out what they need, and don’t need is probably key.
Hilary: And if there isn’t an institution per se, that there is a group, think about, you know, putting together a structure whereby that group can function. And again, saying, where do we want to be? Say, 10 years, 20 years?
Alison: Why do we want these things? What do we want to do with them? Why do they, why do we think that collecting them in perpetuity is a significant social and cultural act?
Hilary: Who will be the ultimate users of this collection?
Alison: And how does that change over time?
Hilary: Yes, and this is something that obviously we’ll be talking about in the next.
Yes. Which takes us right into the question of access once it’s actually on a shelf in an institution.
Hilary: Or, on a server.
Alison: Yeah, indeed but in terms of examples, I think I would, I will throw a few of these into this bibliography that we have promised now. But it seems to me that there have been a number of collections processed with the support in the United States of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which pays a great deal of attention to interpretation. So that when you are thinking about how this material is going to be used, very early on in the process, you bring in some tame academics, some members of the community and I’ll do a little bit of digging and see if I can come up with some some useful examples of that kind of thing where a local community has been documented by one individual over time, how those can be most effectively organized.
Hilary: In my own area, a local newspaper archive, which has been documenting the community for many, many years, the archive is still in the possession of the local newspaper, which has no resources to open it up. So this is where a local community is really coming into its own to support the access to it and they are gradually working out what the parameters are, where the interest lies, what his ultimate purpose might be. It is this process of moving from current day to day work or a purpose, one purpose to history.
Alison: I will say that that has happened more and more. Again, I’m thinking about the Magnum archive that I’ve written about quite a lot, that a collection of photographs that was simply used as a way to move images from a from a seller to a buyer, essentially, that was a room full of press prints became something else when it was moved to a university library collection and we have to be prepared for that. By that I mean a family photograph archive has one meaning to the family takes on a very, very different meanings when it moves into an institution and I think those are all access questions which we will talk through at great speed in two weeks.
Paul: Wonderful, thank you again for absolutely fascinating discussion. I just love the chemistry between the two of you. We could literally listen to you all day, I think, but in fact, great. We have another session coming up but thank you again to everybody who attended today we had about 150 people and we look forward to seeing you on the next VII Interactive or VII Insider sessions in the future.