Saturday, August 03, 2013

I Couldn't Have Said It Better

As an archivist, I hold that most people want to have the whole story when they learn about a person, place or thing. The "facts" might come from visuals or text preserved over time. However, we can't forget that there are still people who believe that there are certain texts or visuals that should remain hidden. (Protecting children is a different topic)
As an archivist who acquires, preserves and gives access to materials on healthcare, I do not hesitate to collect and present materials that range from boring to nothing short of shocking. Images of the human form (in all of its glory), gross anatomy, surgeries, injuries and diseases are present in the collections; human remains, equipment of quack treatments, and all sorts of odd artifacts and evidence of racism and other forms of prejudice are common in my daily work life. After years in the archives, I still hold to my professional opinion that our work should be holistic whether our presentations are approved by all or not, as long as we adhere to restrictions on privacy.
It happened that I was reading from an archives listserv today in which a photographer was asking about the appropriateness of preserving and displaying a collection of his own photography documenting urban street life. A fellow archivist responded in a way that made me proud to be an archivist and I wanted to share it with you. It might give you some relief to know that archivists are fully cognizant of their responsibility towards history.   
Your photograph in the style of Cartier Bresson is a document of life in our times. As an archivist one should not be so narrow as to not collect images like this. If your work happened to relate to my collecting scope (the Pacific Northwest and Alaska), it would fit right in with other images of our social culture I have in my collection. As archivists we are gatekeepers for history and we should not collect only a narrow realm of imagery because we are too squeamish or conservative. Our culture is wide ranging and if we are collecting history, we need to collect all aspects of it. That's why you can find images in my collection that are sweet, moving, disgusting, disturbing, appalling, amazing, spiritual, and even sometimes even boring.

If I were collecting your work, I would want the total output of your life work which would have value both as a documentary history of our time and also as a document of a particular photographer's work." 

Nicolette Bromberg
Visual Materials Curator
Special Collections
University of Washington Libraries