43rd Annual Meeting – Photographic Materials, May 14th: “Organizing a Photograph Preservation Workshop in West Africa” by Debra Norris

Debra S. Norris, Chair of the Art Conservation Department and Professor of Photograph Conservation at the University of Delaware, is enthusiastic about fund raising for art conservation. Along with her coauthors, Nora W. Kennedy and Bertrand Lavédrine, she encourages conservation education and the expansion of international networks for all conservators. These two major contributions for the conservation profession were the bases for the project presented during this talk: Organizing a Photograph Preservation Workshop in West Africa.
Norris started by evoking the need for photographic conservation in West Africa, and the previous projects organized in Sub-Saharan Africa by the Getty, ICCROM, the Ford Foundation, SIDA (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency) and UNESCO. Then she presented the “3PA”: Préservation du Patrimoine Photographique Africain (Preservation of Photographic Heritage in Sub Saharan Africa), a collaborative project developed with Nora W. Kennedy, photograph conservator at the Metropolitan Museum of New York, and Bertrand Lavédrine, director of the Conservation Research Center (CRC) of Paris. Their goal is to work on the improvement of the preservation practice in this particular area of the continent, where the photographic collections are highly valuable but vulnerable because of the environment.
Last year, from the 22nd to the 25th of April, a workshop has been held at the Ecole du Patrimoine Africain (EPA), in Porto-Novo (Benin). It was called “Préservation du Patrimoine Photographique Africain: West African Image Lab“. 21 participants (80% of them were artists or photographers, the others were museum and archive professionals and curators) attended the workshop, and discussed the preservation of local photographic collections of West Africa; adapted solutions were proposed. Organizers were Jennifer Bajorek and Erin Haney, co-creator of the Resolution organization. Founded in 1998 with the help of UNESCO and ICCROM, and based in Porto Novo in Benin, the EPA school offers a professional training for 26 sub Saharan countries. It is a non-profit institution, dedicated to photographic collections in Africa, with a focus on preservation, collection management, and exhibitions.
Norris then evoked Nigerian photographers and collectors met by Nora W. Kennedy and Peter Mustardo, photograph conservator and director of the Better Image in New York, who went to Nigeria. She shortly presented the work of three of them: Andrew Esiebo, Abraham Oghobase, and J.D. Okhai Ojeikere, whose artist book, containing 200 photographs, was published a few months after he passed away, in 2014. Kennedy and Mustardo met his son who owns the collection.
As Norris aims to connect different conservation initiatives, she promoted the project “History in progress Uganda”, created in 2011 by a Dutch photographer and an advertiser. Their goal is to acquire and to diffuse images about Uganda history. According to Norris, this action, like 3PA’s, must proceed in connection with education and community organization.
She promoted the Center for Contemporary Art in Lagos (Nigeria), “an independent non-profit making visual art organization set up in December 2007 to provide a platform for the development, presentation, and discussion of contemporary visual art and culture” (see their website). Bisi Silvia, the founder, curator, and director of CCA was a participant of the 2014 workshop at the EPA.
For the future, 3PA’s goals will consist in organizing more workshops to teach the fundamentals in photo preservation in sub-Saharan countries. The conservation professionals will explain “the keys concepts in preventive conservation and materials”, spend some time on both hands-on and lecture, visit collections, and share some tools kits and published resources. Brainstorming sessions about techniques will follow. She emphasized on the fact that the 2014 workshop was the first talk about conservation in French and English in Africa. As photographers are an important part of the participants, development of conservation strategies for photographers in West Africa will be discussed. Funding for the workshop in photograph preservation was made possible thanks to many sponsors that Norris listed – AIC/PMG was one of them.
Some observations were done. First, to Norris, “community engagement and connections are clear” in Africa, which is a wonderful advantage. Then, the specific challenges: “lack of electricity”, and “dealing with material and digital collections simultaneously”. For the EPA, in Benin, where the workshop happened, the next steps will consist in “renewing commitment to preservation of photo collections”. Thanks to the “saving photo heritage” website, they began to rise money to create “a major center for photographic preservation, archiving, and digitization on the African continent”. Every one can help them!
The next 3PA workshop will be held in 2017 in Zimbabwe.
She finished the talk with a quick look on beautiful African textiles!
To discover the Nigerian photographers:
About the Center for Contemporary Art in Lagos: http://www.ccalagos.org
About the Ecole du Patrimoine Africain in Porto Novo: http://www.epa-prema.net
Resolution organization: https://www.resolutionphoto.org
History in Progress Uganda: http://www.hipuganda.org
To help Saving the Photographic Heritage: https://t160k.org/campaign/help-save-africas-photographic-heritage/