by Naomi House
“The picture is what remains when we have lost everything” :
on preserving Africa’s nearly lost African photography heritage
“The picture is what remains when we have lost everything,” and no continent in the past century has had as much interference in its cultural heritage preservation than Africa. Africans have been photographing their continent, communities and cultures since the beginning of the photographic record, but without immediate preservation efforts we will lose this record, a loss of truly ‘everything.’ So it is fitting that the preservation efforts, like the art and heritage they seek to preserve, have their home in Africa.
L’Ecole du Patrimoine Africain (EPA), an international organization located in Porto-Novo, Benin which specializes in the preservation and promotion of both tangible and intangible cultural heritage, is creating a revolutionary center for the preservation of Africa’s photographic record, specifically photos shot by local Africans.
They train “heritage professionals from 26 sub-Saharan African countries. The School’s mission at first was aimed in priority at conservation, management and mediation of collections of African museums. EPA then diversified its activities by targeting libraries and archives, then immovable and intangible cultural heritage. Since its creation in 1998, EPA has trained more than 1200 African heritage professionals, carried out more than 220 activities, mounted 4 exhibitions, organized an international conference, published more than 50 reports, one newsletter, the proceedings of one conference, two tourism guides and 10 Web sites, and carried out 4 surveys. EPA is a self-financed institution which receives support from a variety of funders.”
The quote, “the picture is what remains when we have lost everything,” by Gérard Duchemin is a translation from the original French, “l’image c’est ce qui reste quand on aura tout perdu” (both versions hyperlinked here).
Thanks to Resolution Photo and Caroline Lacey for several of the photographs used in this campaign.