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In Africa, photographic collections old and new face many dangers, and some institutions lack the resources and knowledge to properly preserve these treasures. With the collaborative efforts of organizations committed to raising awareness of the value and significance of photography in Africa, ARTC Chair Debra Hess Norris helped create, "Preservation of Photography Patrimonial in Africa (3PA): West African Image Lab," a series of four-day workshops, most recently held in Benin, West Africa. The workshops combine theory and practice to preserve photograph collections in Africa, empowering participants with information, professional networks and advocacy skills.
Historically significant African photographic collections face serious environmental and economic risks. The absence of formally trained photograph conservators in this region makes the need for informed preservation professionals essential to care for the wealth of photographic heritage dating from the early nineteenth century to the present.
In response to these challenges, the École du Patrimoine Africain (EPA) partnered with the Department of Art Conservation at the University of Delaware, the Centre de Recherche sur la Conservation des Collections in Paris, Photograph Conservation at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Resolution Photo to identify important photographic repositories at risk, and to develop, organize, and administer workshops for curators, photographers, collection care professionals, and directors of contemporary art centers, museums and regional archives deeply committed to the preservation of African heritage in Africa. In the 2014 workshop series, well over 50% of the participants were artists/photographers who care for influential archives, including those representing the collections of Roger DaSilva of Senegal, Paul Kodjo of Côte d’Ivoire, Bâ and Bamba of Mali, and J.D.’Okhai Ojeikere of Nigeria, all photographers of historic and cultural significance.
In Africa, important photograph collections have been discovered in flea markets, sold to western collectors at low prices and in some cases even taken from the families under false presences. They are held privately or housed in regional museums and libraries where controlled environments are rare, electricity never guaranteed, and damage caused by flash floods, silverfish, termites, and mold extensive. The threat to these collections is substantial and almost completely unacknowledged outside of the continent.
Core lectures and hands-on demonstrations for the 2014 workshop series were taught by Bertrand Lavédrine (Centre de Recherche sur la Conservation des Collections, France), Debra Hess Norris (University of Delaware Department of Art Conservation), and Nora Kennedy (Photograph Conservation at The Metropolitan Museum of Art). Touching on everything from identification of negative and print processes and creative storage solutions, to advocacy and grant-writing, the workshop sparked probing questions and compelling contributions from all quarters. Our teaching was hands–on where possible and translated simultaneously to ease communication.
Additional discussions were led by Fatima Fall (director of the Centre de recherche et de documentation du Sénégal museum, library, and photo archive in Saint-Louis, Senegal); Henrike Grohs(director of the Goethe-Institut in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire), Franck Ogou (curator, cultural producer, and cultural heritage manager at the École du Patrimoine Africain in Porto-Novo, Benin); and Erin Haney andJennifer Bajorek (co-directors of Resolution Photo and organizing partners). These speakers addressed diverse issues related to public programming, community outreach, advocacy, intellectual property, and digitization. Participants also took the floor for a formal, 10-minute presentation of their collections and/or institutions. Some of the most exciting brainstorming sessions focused on the use of traditional clay and earthen architecture to provide passive cooling and ventilation.African colleagues spoke eloquently and with passion about the preservation of these rich photographic resources. While great strides have been made in the preservation of photography in Africa, the broadening of networks and further dissemination of information as a result of this workshop is a further step in connecting and empowering talented African archivists, artists, collection care professionals, directors and educators capable of advancing preservation practice, public programming, and advocacy. We aim to ensure this work continues through additional programming, online mentoring, and an investment of new preservation funding for collections at-risk.
the University of Delaware Department of Art Conservation and Institute for Global Studies, Tru Vue Inc., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Centre de Recherche sur la Conservation des Collections, the Goethe-Institut Abidjan, the Center for Research and Restoration of the Museums of France, University Products, the Getty Conservation Institute, the American Institute for Conservation Photographic Materials Group, The Better Image, and our many generous individual donors. A UDaily article on the workshop series can be foundhere. (Photo courtesy Jenifer Bajorek.)