I'll try my hand at an inspirational post....

If you're serious about giving back to the community, through photography, one way to do it would be to check with your local archives, historical societies, public library special collections (geneology etc). I can tell you, that very few of the smaller local institutions will have technical staff in the way of a photographer or lab facility. I know from being on archives & museum professional listgroups that it's getting pretty tough for some now to find a local lab that will do copywork on b&w sheet film, even roll film is getting hard to find.

In this country, b&w film is still the standard medium used for preservation work--and indeed most state archives are similar to the one within the system I work in. The dept I work for ultimately oversees the archives & records center, several museums, archaeology , a state library, geneology collection and 20+ some odd sites. They run a site preservation project modeled after the HABS/HAER as well a microfilm reformatting project that continually archives records and periodicals such as newspapers. The state archives has over 1.5 million photographs or something in that range and is one of the oldest in this country.

There are collections within this that are made up of the negs of studios out of business, newspapers, family photo albums--you name it. One of my favorites is 18,000 8x10 and larger negs and plates from a 1890-1920s era studio. I have printed so many of these over the years in support of exhibits, yet I've probably only seen 10%, if that, of them. We've used them in exhibits covering a broad range of subjects--because they offer a unique view to the area since so much has changed on the landscape around us. What's more--there are images of factory openings, parades etc.

Right now--I'm working on support of an exhibit and have printed several hundred negs from a newspaper archive dating back to the 30s and then more, mainly of copy negs, plus site documetnation negs of structures. The news negs are interesting--because it is often the out-takes of the assignments that are of most interest now.

Here are 2 examples though, that come to mind. A studio went out of business--owner died, the studio was sold off in an estate auction and pieces were eventually donated to the state. Some of this wound up in our museum--there were 40+ yrs of negs--all sheets--that were basic run of the mill portrait studio fare. Yet, they had all the original log books--the provenance, if you like--names, dates even how much was charged for the sitting. There were thousands of these. Ultimately they wound up being housed in ageneology search room--and there was alot of interest from that community in these negs which had been stored in a barn more or less for years--it was like a hidden treasure.

Earlier this year--a similar thing happened again. We went out to the studio this time and picked up some donated equipment from this now defunct studio. I asked the donor where the negs were---the studio had been around for 30 some odd years. Turned out they had thrown them away because they felt like nobody would be interested in them...I immediately thought of the other collection and felt a certain loss. so it goes.

As for the post above about veteran's projects? Yeah--alot of archives are doing these. NC started with a WWI oral history project about 5 yrs ago. At that time, there were maybe 85-90 living vets in-state. They started small, with one researcher, but were overwhelmed by the interest and had to take on volunteers to get the job done. They started with oral history interviews and transcripts--accompanied by copywork of photographs, letters, service papers etc. By the end, they had widows & family members literally bringing shopping bags full of artifacts to the archives. The project was such a success, they did the same for WWII, Korea and are moving through Korea and all the following. The museum I work for is across the street--and we've been actively collecting this material for years. Even with what is happening now--someone collects this current material. It's an ongoing process.

fwiw--my 101 yr old uncle was interviewed for the WWI project about a year before he passed away. By the end of the WWI project, about half the vets had passed away, and they actually ran out of time with interviewing some. I went out with a military curator from our museum--who volunteered to interview him. We brought back photos, maps and postcards and copied these onto 4x5 film, returning the originals to the family. The tapes, transcripts, copy negs, work prints and the film I shot of him being interviewed all reside in the state archives now for anyone to access--along with the rest of the project.

I have copied so many family photo albums, I can't even recall how many. But the negs are always what I like to see. Curators and historians will always see more in an old photo than others--they look at the manner of dress, or furnishings in a room, or what have you--the minituae that escapes everyone else. This is why even those mundane headshots can be seen as being historically relevant.

So I guess my point is-- Commercially--those studios have never really had a concern over longevity. I can't fault them for using digital for their businesses now--and would be a hypocrite to do so. What I'd like to see would be folks documenting their community with the interest in sharing it in ways beyond "art".....the potential newspaper archives made of b&w film all died about 15 yrs ago. You can forget most commercial studios as well. So it will be mostly up to folks like you eventually...and those who work for the historical preservation projects. The sad part is that 50% or more of the holdings in archives around the country probably came out from commercial interests like the ones I descirbed above. As technology changes, so do the ways in which these images are collected. If you ask any archivist about longevity--they'll stick with b&w film anytime--but the reality is that digital is making inroads into this field as well.

Happy holidays--KT

here, this is our site & the portal link to the digitzation project:



Kent Thompson, Photographer
North Carolina Museum of History
Opinions expressed in this message may not represent the policy of my agency.