Nora joined the MET in 1990 and in 2015, under her direction, the
museum established the department of photography conservation. In the
pre-digital era when she worked on photography conservation, “We had an
object (a photograph print or a film negative) that we worked upon.
Today work arrives in a flash drive or external hard drive. Instead of
an object, we have information (data) that we need to preserve for the
future,” she says about the shift from analog to digital.
the MET also works on Time-Based Media (TMB) conservation. Audio,
video, software and any media that is bound by time falls into this
ambit. The archivists understand the fragility of time-based media.
calls it a mixed bag: “On the one hand there are 150-year-old
photographs that have arrived at the museum 80 years ago and are still
in remarkable condition, and at the other end is a digital image that
arrives and we have to think of how to preserve it and how an artist
would want it installed or archived.”
Archivists of moving images
(film) underline the importance of saving the film negatives so that
they can be tapped into with each shift in technology — 2k, 4k, and 8k
Similarly, Nora emphasises the importance of
photography negatives. “Negative is one of the items in photography that
is totally overlooked. People come to me with a family photograph and
say it got stuck to a glass surface [and if it can be saved]. I ask them
if they have the negative and almost 100%, the answer is no,” she
Wherever Nora travels and teaches, she tries to create
awareness of the need to conserve the original material. “People in the
US have a fascination to tell stories. Archives are full of stories and
need to be saved,” she says.
She has taught in other countries, including
the Middle Eastern region as part of the Middle East Photograph
Preservation Initiative (MEPPI) and has seen how candidates initially
enrol for the workshop as part of their job, when they are made in
charge of photo archives. At the end of the workshop, gaining in
knowledge, they don’t look at a photograph as a flat object but as a
layered narrative of historical and cultural significance.
As she winds up, she hopes to inspire candidates at the Hyderabad workshop
and also touches upon the challenge of conservation in India, posed by
the climatic conditions. “The high temperature and humidity is a cause
for concern and a challenge. But I would say a bigger challenge anywhere
is the lack of awareness,” she says, signing off.
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