Archives 2.0: Saving the Past, Anticipating the Future

I recently attended the Archives 2.0 conference at the National Media Museum, Bradford, which set out to examine the challenges and opportunities of photographic and film archives.

I was very interested to hear Jem Southam and Val Millington’s discussion of the Photographers’ Archives and Legacy Project. The project was set up to examine how photographers were preparing for their archival legacy. Some of their key findings were:

  • Photographers often have no knowledge of what happens to their archive after their death.
  • This is a cross generational issue affecting both early career and established photographers.
  • Working with analogue and digital photographs is a more complex issue than they had anticipated.
  • There is a false assumption that digitisation will solve the issue.
  • There is no national forum to consider these issues and there are no standard procedures in place to help photographers prepare their archival legacy.

The need for archivists to be proactively working with photographers, and other archive creators, was also discussed by Denise Gose in her keynote address. She outlined how the University of Arizona’s Center for Creative Photography builds relationships with photographers throughout their working lives to ensure that their work is captured and preserved for the future.

One of the major themes of the conference was the challenge of managing today’s digital heritage. There is a significant challenge in evolving long-term preservation methods for digital filmmaking. Sarah Atkinson spoke about the Deep Film Access Project at the University of Brighton which is developing a methodology whereby both the digital and analogue materials created in the process of producing feature films can be captured, integrated and made accessible to researchers.

Luca Antoniazzi (University of Leeds) discussed some of the challenges for cultural institutions preserving analogue and digital film archives:

  • There is huge potential in digital technology in terms of access, preservation and participation.
  • Audio visual digital preservation is particularly problematic. The amount of data to be preserved is huge.
  • Interpretative frameworks and best practice are still very much a work in progress.
  • Mass digitisation of analogue film seems to be too expensive for most institutions for the foreseeable future.
  • There is a need for shared strategies for mass digitisation in the short-term.

The main message that I took away from the conference was that a successful shift to ‘archives 2.0’ was heavily reliant on collaboration not just between institutions, but between archivists, curators, librarians, donors, creators, academics, technical specialists and community groups.

-Matthew Neely

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