Saving Image & Sound

How can we save our audio-visual heritage and ensure that what we capture now will last well into the future? That was the question put to a range of information stakeholders by the University of the West Indies Archives on UNESCO’s World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, and the responses left no doubt of the relevance of the question or the challenges it raised!

On one hand, there were issues to do with collecting and preserving old material and capturing new material; and with formatting the taped and digitized material so that it can be accessed over the long term, even while technologies come and go. There was the matter of training people to record not just the content, but information on its context, timing, owners etc so that it can be legally and ethically and accurately used in the future. There was also the question of what had been recorded in the past, some of it reflective of an imperial/colonial mentality, and how to ensure that newly captured material was broadly reflective of the local culture on its own tersm, for the benefit of future researchers.

Both broadcaster Fae Ellington and music curator Herbie Miller referred to a range of important footage, in private collections, which needed to be brought into the fold, so to speak. And broadcaster Zahra Burton, speaking from the floor, referred for instance to unofficial museums that included treasure troves of popular cultural material.

Why does this matter to the non-academician? Filmmaker Storm Saulter had some down-to-earth concerns. Aside from the need for documentary footage, he underscored the importance of being able to see and hear how people walked, talked, dressed and spoke in past decades, to give an authentic ring to movies about these periods. It was “the sound and skin of the thing” he said. He wanted “trueness, language, the real texture you can put in front of an actor, a designer, a set decorator…”

He also spoke about the importance of accessibility of material. This included catalogues that can be easily and quickly found and checked, contextual information on the footage, who owned the rights, how much there was at what quality, when it was filmed and on what format etc. And then he wanted clearer information on what it would cost to use the material; something that the National Library of Jamaica noted they had done significant work with in terms of their various collections.

Archivist and librarian Maureen Webster-Prince raised a range of issues out of a rich store of experiences in the field, including issues of preservation and making old material usable; of training and creation of templates to ensure the collection of critical information, and critically of strategising so that all the important elements could be brought together into a working enterprise.

Speakers also underscored the importance of properly curating the wide range of material, of marketing to audiences, of pricing and of having the necessary technology and space to maintain and migrate the archive.

The biggest question remains: how to approach the crafting of a response to the urgent need and the challenge. How urgent? A poster on display noted that audiovisual material such as films, radio and tv programmes as well as audio and video recordings, “contain the primary records of the 20th and 21st centuries.” It added, starkly: “We have no more than 10 – 15 years to transfer audiovisual records to digital to prevent their loss.”

Check the University of the West Indies Archive’s blog for more:  https://uwiarchives.wordpress.com/2015/11/06/we-gathered-we-heard-we-discussed-spoken-word-day-2015/

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