Although commercial, popular, and scholarly interest in African photography has flourished over the past twenty years, access to photographers' studio archives has been limited and published materials are minimal. Retained in private archives, most of these materials are not catalogued, appropriately preserved, or internationally accessible for research and education. Stored in harsh climatic conditions, the physical integrity of these collections have remained in serious jeopardy. Moreover, due to the high commercial value of these archives in global markets, these materials are vulnerable to mistreatment, theft, and exploitation.
Attempting to address these issues, since 2011, conservators, photographers, and students working on the Archive of Malian Photography in Bamako have been cleaning, restoring, preserving, digitizing, and cataloging archival collections in Mali to safeguard original materials from further damage and theft, and to promote their global accessibility to research and education in the form of low-resolution digital collections online and at the Maison Africaine de la Photographie in Bamako.
The photographers featured in this collection are among the most locally, and internationally, renowned photographers in Mali. Together, their archives form an historical overview of professional studio and governmental photographic practices in Mali from the 1940s-90s, spanning three generations and document three major sites (Bamako, Ségu, Mopti) where photography has flourished since the 1950s. Their oeuvres capture changes and continuities in cultural practices, artistic production, social trends, and political realities in Mali and, by extension, francophone western Africa. They are at once emblematic of their eras and specific to the unique artistic innovations and photographic styles of their creators. Finally, their collections, which contain medium-format (6x6cm) and 35mm negatives and original prints, are among the most substantial, viable for digitization, and in need of preservation.
Within these collections, our selections prioritized the following criteria:
- Medium-format, black-and-white negatives (the oldest and most at risk);
- Sampling across career;
- Best of kind (in lieu of redundancies).
This project stems from research Dr. Keller has been conducting on the histories of photographic practice in Mali since 2002, working with 100+ photographers and their families who shared concerns about the physical preservation, documentation, and popularization of their collections. By 2009, several photographers and archival custodians had written letters to Dr. Keller in support of this project. The first phase was funded by the British Library Endangered Archives Programme in 2011 and the second phase was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities Preservation and Access Division in 2014.