Managing a photographic collection
L'ensemble des contenus de cette rubrique sont issus du Vade-mecum "Prise en main d'un fonds de photographies" (Novembre 2016).
Par fonds de photographies nous entendons un fonds composé d’items variés à l’exclusion des fichiers numériques.
Edited by Isabelle-Cécile Le Mée and Anne de Mondenard.
Sylvain Besson, Samuel Bonnaud-Le Roux and Bertrand Lavédrine, Isabelle-Cécile Le Mée, Anne de Mondenard.
Why a decision support tool specifically dedicated to the conservation and management of photographic holdings?
Many institutions keep sets of photographs or are asked to host them. Not all of them have been treated as assets.
The handling of a photographic collection can be extremely complex. This complexity results essentially from the singularity of the photographic medium.
Photography, a medium of a protean nature, is both amateur and professional and can be described as artistic, documentary or illustration.
The generic term «photography» also covers objects with very different technical and aesthetic characteristics (negatives, contacts, albums, reading or exhibition prints, slides, etc.) Its production has different destinations and uses (publishing, projection, exhibition, documentation, etc.) that explain its appearance.
Another singularity of the medium: its ability to materialize on different media, to put on different formats and to re-edite in time through several individuals. Thus the author of a shot is not necessarily the author of the prints made after it. The prints may have been made by various persons, at different times, by the author of the shots or by shooters, under the control of the author or not, during his lifetime or after his death.
In the same fund, it is therefore not uncommon to find several proofs based on the same negative. If we consider them only for what they represent, these items can be assimilated to identical multiples and make redundancy, but behind an apparent similarity, these prints remain singular and must be treated individually.
Faced with the plurality and quantity of objects to be treated, not always knowing how to name them, evaluate, sort, classify, preserve, prioritize, value, the collections manager may feel deprived.
Yet it is in the identification of each of these elements, in the treatment of their complementarity that lies the perfect knowledge of a production or a work. It is on the basis of this knowledge that an optimized conservation and valuation plan can be envisaged.
For all these reasons, it appeared necessary to propose a simple tool allowing the handling of sets, collections and photographic collections.
Archival centres or libraries have become accustomed to managing these collections, which are made up of learned societies or are the result of the activity of local photographers, with documentary access. Museums are often more embarrassed to receive and process these funds because they do not always know whether they must include all or part of the collection in the inventory. And in the latter case what to do? The circular on study materials of the French Museum Service (19 July 2012) excludes photographic collections from its scope.
How was this tool developed ?
In multiple hands, by confronting and sharing experiences and skills from several institutions or departments: Centre for Conservation Research, Department of preventive conservation at the Centre de recherche et de restauration des musées de France, mission de la photographie à la direction générale des patrimoines, bureau de la propriété intellectuelle, Legal and International Affairs Department at the General Secretariat (Ministry of Culture and Communication), Nicéphore Niépce Museum (Chalon-sur-Saône).
Who is he talking to ?
To all those responsible for collections (archives, associations, libraries, museums, etc.) who are confronted with an acquisition project or who wish to process a photographic collection in order to preserve and enhance it by making it accessible to the public, from the neophyte to the researcher.
How does it work ?
This vade-mecum in 59 questions is organized in three parts: heritage assessment; management and conservation; valuation. Each part is structured by a series of simple questions designed to reveal all the problems involved in managing such sets. It can be used before acquiring a fund, accepting a donation, or when processing a previously held fund.
As a result of each question, elements of information are proposed allowing each person responsible to find the answers adapted to each situation. Each photographic collection poses different problems and there is no single answer. But taking into account all the elements and issues remains the best way for everyone to find an appropriate response.
It is not a question of substituting this Vademecum to existing tools. This is why links and documents in the appendix will allow you, if necessary, to go further in each area.
The Vademecum is not a frozen document, it can be modified, enriched to take into account technical, scientific and legal developments that impact the conservation, management and valuation of funds.