I have been lucky to gain a place as a volunteer two years ago with MAAS. More recently, I have had the pleasure of joining the MAAS ‘David Mist Digitisation Project’ team, as part of my Master in Museum and Heritage Studies at the University of Sydney.
The ‘David Mist Digitisation Project’ relates to an important commercial, documentary and fashion photography archive, acquired in 1992. (Van de Ven, 2014)
The team took up the digitisation challenge in 2015 and over the past year, with the photographer. They have aptly worked on culling this extensive collection for duplication and deterioration as well as updated the documentation whilst scanning a selection of this enormous collection of approximately 40,000 negatives (Van de Ven, personal communication, 2016).
Working closely with curator Anne-Marie Van De Ven, I have been rehousing, listing and documenting the remaining 10s of 1000s of negatives and envelopes, in preparation for moving the archive to a new and improved storage location. Complex numbering sequences have had to be created to ensure groups of negatives can be given locations for easy retrieval.
Why digitise museum archives?
The implications of digitising archives and museum collections have been very much questioned over the last years.
Researchers and academics both compare disadvantages and advantages of digitisation projects with ethic responsibilities that museum professionals carry to the public (Brown and Nicholas, 2012, this issue; Rosenzweig, 2011; Turnbull, 2000a in Newell, 2012, p288).
Questions and concerns such as “How does the effect of an artefact change when it is digitised?”, “How will digitisation projects affect visitation to museums?” and “What are the risks involved when viewing a copy of an artefact on a screen instead of the original objects in “its surrounding text and context” (Newell, 2012, p289).
Although this topic is to be avoided from a black and white viewpoint, I can say confidently that we embraced the project, including these concerns, believing that digital technologies have become an excellent tool for supporting accessibility to grand collections that remain in storage of notable museums, such as the David Mist archives 92/401 and 96/44/1.
Many archives have been for too long sitting for years within acid free envelop sleeves and within boxes on shelves, waiting restlessly to be seen again. It has thus been an enormous privilege to open MAAS’s hidden treasures.
Post by Pearl de Waal, Curatorial Intern with Anne Marie Van de Ven, Curator
Newell, J. (2012). Old objects, new media: Historical collections, digitization and affect. Journal of Material Culture, 17(3), 287-306.
Van de Ven, A. (2014). David Mist collection digitisation project [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://maas.museum/inside-the-collection/2014/08/20/david-mist-collection-digitisation-project/