Written by: Jessica Cebra, ICFA Intern
Photographic negatives present many unique challenges to arranging an archival collection of photographic materials. A photograph is an inherently problematic document type containing multiple layers of meaning by which it can be described. An archivist must keep in mind the person, group, or organization responsible for the creative activity that forms the basis of the intellectual content of the work. While taking into consideration the storage and preservation needs of the materials, ultimately, the research needs of the institution and its end users must be met by providing access points.
ICFA’s photographic collections are comprised of detailed documentation of the former Byzantine Institute’s fieldwork projects, Byzantine art and architecture, illuminated manuscripts, museum objects, and other supporting materials for the study of Byzantium, and more! There are more than 73,000 negatives and transparencies currently in cold storage, which have been accessioned and mostly described. Many negatives have been printed for easier viewing by researchers; these access copies form the bulk of ICFA’s Black and White Photograph Collection . Yet, there is still a large, varied bulk of negatives that have been in the backlog of unprocessed materials, most of which were found elsewhere in the ICFA stacks, office spaces, and even the occassional drawer or filing cabinet. These are the items I have been assigning accession numbers for the past few months to be integrated in the cold storage freezer units for long term preservation and future digitization projects. The acetate decay of these photographic negatives is currently underway, and it is critical that the items be moved to cold storage, sooner better than later, to prevent further degradation.
Items I have accessioned:
3,934 35mm film strips
492 35mm mounted slides
59 8”x10” negatives/transparencies
632 5”x7” negatives/transparencies
151 4”x5” negatives/transparencies
2,044 various sizes of medium format negatives/transparencies
15 8mm motion film rolls
18 8mm motion film strips
10 15mm Minox spy film strips
While an individual photograph may have independent meaning (i.e. its subject or location), it also derives meaning from the context in which it was made (a specific fieldwork project) and should not be removed from the contextual relationship it has with other photographs (from the same fieldwork project). Unfortunately, many of ICFA’s photographic negatives have been separated and grouped by various means in the past, and the next big project is to reorganize the current cold storage arrangement and integrate the newly accessioned negatives into the collections. Stay tuned for progress reports…
The context and purpose of a photograph does not often translate to individuals who were not present at the time of the scene being captured. The following images have been removed from their original context and were found mixed in with unrelated files, deemed “miscellaneous” or “useless” or just plain “unidentified.”
I’ll end this post with Alan Cruse’s description of cognitive concepts as a nice parallel to describing archival collections (and hopefully what the cold storage collection will be in the near future), as “organized bundles of stored knowledge representing an articulation of events, entities, situations and so on.”