Safeguarding Sound and Image Collections

Conservation training in Latvia
 Mick Newnham

The International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) contributes to conservation training by developing new educational tools and materials and organising professional training activities. The Sound and Image Collections Conservation (SOIMA) course in Riga provides students from around the world with an overview of issues related to the preservation of, and access to, sound and image materials. Students can learn the value, meaning, selection and use of sound and image collections in various institutional contexts, and explore the potential of sound and image media to transmit knowledge and cultural traditions.
National Archives of Latvia, Riga.

Riga is a very long way from Canberra. So after 30 hours of travel, I was pleased to be met by our hosts. We bypassed my hotel and immediately headed to the National University to meet with the course participants and the other trainers. SOIMA 11 is being held over several locations in Riga and will travel to Vilnius, Lithuania for one of the three weeks duration.

The first workshop I attended was about the preservation of still photographs, presented by Professor Bertrand Lavedrine. Bertrand is the Director of the Centre de recherche sur la conservation des collections (CRCC) in Paris and a world renowned researcher into the deterioration of photographic and other audiovisual materials. Bertrand and I had taught together in a previous SOIMA event held in India in 2009 and this was a useful opportunity to discuss our research projects in person.
Film workshop.

A series of talks at the Kinofotofonodokumentu Arhivs (National Film Archive) started with Professor Howard Besser, Director of Moving Image Archiving and Preservation at the Tisch School at New York University. Howard took the participants on a journey through the intricate world of digital audio visual formats.

Next was my time to introduce the participants to the world of motion picture film. For many students this was their first experience of the technology of film and while Bertrand’s talks had paved the way to understanding the world of photography, I had to show the differences between the characteristics and behaviour of film compared to other photographic materials.

Friday saw the end of the first week’s training. I introduced the participants to the Torres Straits tradition of Floral Friday. These international events are as much about cultural exchange and creating networks as formal training.

This was my ‘big day’, I was presenting all the sessions which included hands-on film repair and the surprisingly difficult skills of preparing film for long term storage … winding film.
Film retrival lifts at National Archives of Latvia, Riga.

The facilities provided by the archive were very good for this type of training. The archive had been a huge film distribution centre in the Soviet era and the film store was the most amazing system I have ever seen. The shelving filled a massive room and was upwards of ten metres high. To access the shelves a series of powered lifts running on a track elevates the retrieval officer to the appropriate part of the shelving, even the highest levels, in complete safety for both the officer and the films being handled.

Tomorrow the whole workshop moves to Vilnius, Lithuania where I will join with a former student from SOIMA ’09, Samuel Franco, Director of Casa K’ojom (Research Center and Museum of Maya Music) in Guatemala, to cover the preservation of audio, video and the preservation issues of magnetic media.