The vital issue, of what will to happen to a photographer’s archive when they die or are no longer able to care for it, has been taken up as a research project by British academic, Jem Southam, of Plymouth University. Challenged to think about the issue of photographers’ archives and their legacy following the death of his friend and fellow photographer, James Ravilious in 1999, Southam gained the support of Plymouth University, the Library of Birmingham, and the Arts Council England, to study the issues. See http://www.photolegacyproject.co.uk/.
‘The research explores how contemporary photographic practices can have a sustained legacy and provide public benefit. It looks at how UK-based independent photographers, now and for the long-term, can make their work and related contextual material publicly accessible, and increase opportunities for the general public, researchers and students to learn about and enjoy their work.’
Dr Michael Pritchard, Director of the British Photographic History Group (http://britishphotohistory.ning.com/ ) announced that the first case studies have now been published. They concern on the current state of thinking and action in regard to the work of Liz Hingley, Daniel Meadows, and Mark Power (Magnum), and are a timely reminder of these same issues raised by New Zealand photographers, Glenn Busch, John Miller, Reg Feuz, Gil Hanly and others seeking answers, help or guidance.
Among the key points from the three case studies so far are the following:
· The planning and organisation of a photographic practice is not consistently taught, but largely learned from others and through experience. A module in photography courses about how to plan and organise work would be very useful
· Working digitally does not create a solution to the archiving of work
· Storage is difficult for peripatetic photographers
· The photographer has not made a Will to indicate what should happen to their archive
· Desire for family to benefit financially
· Uncertain of potential value of legacy (work + historical, social, cultural value)
· Concerned about what will happen to the work
· Value of establishing a relationship with a collecting institution with specialist expertise and resources
· Value of creating a catalogue listing all the work, negatives, contact sheets and contextual material and using a simple reference system for locating everything
It should go without saying that the legacy of independent photographers in New Zealand is huge, not least because the tradition of government or local body support of documentary photographic projects has been meagre and patchy, to say the least. Our history is not one of support, but rather of non-support, by most public institutions, expecting (maybe) photographers to bequeath their hard-won work free when they die. The issues explored by Jem Southam’s UK research are hugely important to anybody who values photographs as an alternative to the written histories of the world we live in. That’s one vast public benefit worth keeping for future generations.
John B Turner, Beijing, China
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