I decided to do some research on the nature and purpose of photographic archives recently, and came upon a blog post titled “What Does a Photograph Archivist Do?” by Marguerite Roby, the photographic archivist for the Smithsonian Institution Archives.
In it, she described her job as follows: “The images that make up the collection in my particular care are memories of artifacts, exhibits, events, and people that tell the story of this institution. To me, memories are like undeveloped film. They become useless when they are not articulated or developed in a way that makes them meaningful to an audience. Memories are also prone to distortion over time, so it’s paramount to record them so that the stories they tell become a resource for future generations… It is my job to see to the preservation of the physical images as well to capture and preserve the meaning behind them so they remain relevant over time.”
That’s one of the best explanations I have found for why archives exist. They serve to keep the record straight for future generations. They provide context for those people in the future who seek to understand the past. They provide a connection to who and what has gone before. And from that standpoint, it doesn’t matter if you are someone as important in their field as Bob Dylan, or someone whose name will never be known to the masses. Everyone plays a role in the fabric of life, and preserving those stories is important.
I also came across a list of criteria to consider when thinking about what to include in an archive:
- The purpose of the archive
- The uniqueness of an item
- The quality of an item
- The amount of documented information about an item that is available
- Whether an item is too private or personal to include
Those points can help serve as guidelines to answering some of the questions that I have had about archiving my artwork, and the best place to start is to try figure out what the purpose of my archives would be.