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REPORT: CollAsia International Course on Conserving Photographic and Archival Collections

Delegates at CollAsia International

Miss Phephile Nonsindiso Tshabangu,
ZimLA Matabeleland Branch Executive Member 

I left the country on the 19th of November 2018 to attend the CollAsia international course on Conserving Photographic and Archival Collections in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The successful course was held from the 22nd of November to 15th of December, 2018. The training was a partnership between the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) and the Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea (CHA), to improve the conservation and use of heritage collections in Southeast Asia. Every year, a course is organised in collaboration with institution from member states in the region to address a relevant topic.

The course explored the why, what and how behind conservation decisions related to photographic and archival collections. A group of professionals, participants and teachers from 19 countries spent three weeks addressing these questions, learning together and from each other’s professional experience. The institutions represented included archives, museums, libraries and universities. The professional roles ranged from conservators to curators, archivists, librarians and professors. This diversity allowed us to look at photographic and archival collections from different perspectives, acknowledging common and specific challenges. The course also addressed the increasing regional and worldwide demand for training on conservation of photographs and archival materials. This is so because photographs present characteristics that make them a stimulating topic for the development of conservation theory and practice. The course further aimed to build a shared understanding of the main conservation challenges of photographic and archival collections.

The first part of the course was dedicated to explore the material composition of collection items, their production techniques and values. Issues related to documentation and specific preservation strategies with particular attention to traditional photographs, were also discussed. The second part of the course moved from the perspective on single objects or specific materials to a broader view on collection management issues. Among these, particular attention was given to risk management, integration of preservation access and digital collections management. Discussions on institutional mandates and accessibility of collections highlighted the importance of developing preservation strategies that integrated and enhanced the meaningful use of collections, and the need to build new knowledge together through interdisciplinary, collaborative research.

Additional learning opportunities were offered by course study visits, which provided concrete and context-specific examples of the challenges and approaches to conserving archival and photographic collections. For example a half day practical session on risk management for heritage collections was carried out at the Museum Library of Vietnamese History. We (the participants) worked in the museum galleries and library storage areas to assess risks to the collections through observations and interviews with the staff, and then we discussed feasible measures to mitigate priority risks.

Towards the end of the course, a former participant of ICCROM’s CollAsia and First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis (FAC) courses led a session on disaster preparedness and response for heritage collections. The exercise involved a post-flood scenario simulation, in which participants had to carry out situation analysis, damage and risk assessment, and salvage of affected items. For the simulation they used objects from the course didactic collection, including photographs, CDs, magazines, books, small ceramics, and baskets. Participants played different roles during the exercise, such as journalists, heritage specialists, volunteers, institution directors, and so on. The exercise highlighted the importance of interdisciplinary and inter-sectoral cooperation, and the need for specific and sustainable strategies in disaster risk management.

As a spin-off activity, the University of Culture organized an International Conference on International Integration of Conservation - Opportunities and Challenges for Cultural Heritage Values, in partnership with the Vietnamese Southern Institute of Social Sciences, and the Ho Chi Mihn City Institute for Development Studies, under the patronage of ICCROM. The conference provided a fruitful platform to learn about current issues and initiatives concerning the Vietnamese heritage, and to strengthen the regional network. Sharing is the key word that can take us towards more effective professional practices. Jointly developing our research and analytic skills; exploring different working modalities learnt from collaborating with other colleagues we can make the difference in our approach to conservation. The more we face new situations, the more we become aware of and are willing to share what we do. The more we are aware of the incredible value and richness of our professional diversity, the more our collections will be effectively conserved and used to make a stronger positive impact on our societies.

Member States represented: 
Brazil, Cambodia, France, Italy, Republic of Korea, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Malawi, Myanmar, Philippines, Spain, Tanzania, Thailand, United Kingdom, Vietnam, Zimbabwe

Non Member States: 
Fiji, Indonesia, Singapore