FIRES OLD AND NEW

About two weeks ago, a fire started at the archive.org scanning center in San Francisco. No one was hurt and, within 48 hours, employees were back at work scanning materials. According to the archive’s blog, they lost hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cameras and scanning equipment, but most of their data was unaffected: Continue reading

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ARCHIVING THE HISTORIAN’S ARCHIVE

A new film collection has just been introduced.  It stretches from 1897-1944.  It is the product of 11 years of labor; preservation support from Giornate del Cinema Muto and the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation at George Eastman House; and a collaboration between Paolo Cherchi Usai and Joshua Yumibe.

The relationship between this archive and history, early film, and other virtual archives is difficult to describe.  From the website:

This database is a record of the 35mm nitrate film frame clippings collected by Italian film historian Davide Turconi (1911-2005) from the Josef Joye Collection in Switzerland and from other unidentified sources. The collection consists of 23,491 clippings in total (usually two to three frames each). The vast majority of the frames cover the early years of cinema (from ca. 1897 to 1915); however, some items in the collection represent films produced as late as 1944.

Another history here.  The complete clip/fragment collection can be viewed here.  The Turconi Collection (a name that displaces/conceals the layers of collecting/archiving at work) raises a number of important questions for early film historians: what is the value of the (literal) film fragment? What history can we tell with a frame or two, multiplied by 23,491?  What kind of (imaginary, phantom) history does it allow us to write, encouraged perhaps by the dazzling colors of the collection?  The archive sends us down a rabbit hole of historical and archival exchanges: from Cherchi Usai to Turconi to Joye to the anonymous others in-between.  It also sends us to the mirror as we self-reflexively consider the (seemingly limitless) boundaries of the contemporary digital archive.

In honouring “Turconi’s belief that knowledge is a treasure to be shared,” perhaps we can also ask: what kind of knowledge is constituted here?  And what is its relationship to the visual treasure?

Correction: A previous version of this post referred to the Turconi Collection as the “Turconi Archive.”  Nowhere in the project’s description/site materials is this term actually used.