Saving photographic treasures: MEMORIST’s successful mission for the Musée de Bretagne

Preserving photographic treasures of Musée de Bretagne

The Musée de Bretagne, located in the heart of the Champs Libres, a cultural institution of Rennes Métropole, is a centre for the conservation and promotion of Breton heritage. Its collections include an impressive photographic collection of over 500,000 items dating from the late 19th and 20th centuries. However, this heritage was threatened by the passage of time and the fragility of certain materials, in particular the cellulose nitrate negatives, which are particularly unstable, toxic and flammable. This is why the museum called on MEMORIST, an interdisciplinary skills centre specialising in the preservation, restoration, digitisation and sharing of heritage.

Digitisation process by Arkhênum and TRIBVN Imaging

For six years, two MEMORIST divisions, TRIBVN Imaging and Arkhênum, took up the challenge of saving this photographic heritage. A team of iconographic archivists put all their expertise into dusting, reconditioning, inventorying and indexing the collections in the museum’s database. These techniques were applied with great care, as some of the images date back to the beginnings of photography.

The photographic collection included negatives and positives on glass plates or flexible supports (cellulose nitrate, cellulose acetate), slides and paper prints. Experts trained in handling these fragile collections have helped to safeguard this rare photographic heritage.

The Arkhênum team used its expertise to prepare the documents for digitisation. The TRIBVN Imaging team then digitised all the references. The work then continued with a description of the photos and the creation of an inventory in the museum’s Flora database. The records with images can now be consulted online, on the museum’s collections portal: Des collections en partage. Eventually, temporary exhibitions and publications will also be able to showcase this remarkable collection.

Conservation and promotion impact

This initiative is part of a wider process of cataloguing and digitising the collections, initiated in 2016 in response to regulatory requirements. Working with MEMORIST has enabled significant progress on the conservation, documentary management and promotion of Brittany’s photographic heritage.

The Musée de Bretagne was able to save its photographic treasures thanks to MEMORIST’s expertise. This successful mission demonstrates the importance of preserving and enhancement heritage, whether tangible or intangible. It also shows that collaboration between cultural institutions and specialised companies can give rise to ambitious, innovative projects that serve to pass on knowledge over the long term. By saving photographic treasures that will now be accessible to future generations and the general public, the museum is helping to spread Breton culture and history.

Outsourcing for preventive conservation

“The outsourcing of this project was necessary because of the need for preventive conservation (safeguarding photographic collections, in particular the negatives on flexible cellulose nitrate supports), the regulatory obligations of the ten-yearly inventory (processing a very large volume of collections) and the prospects for development that have been in place since 2017 thanks to the “Des collections en partage” project (making digitised collections available on the basis of a principle of maximum openness of the rights associated with the images). The chain of operations put in place with the Arkhênum team has enabled us to make significant progress on all three fronts, with some very promising discoveries (and rediscoveries) for Brittany’s photographic heritage.” Manon Six, Heritage Curator in charge of the collections department at the Musée de Bretagne.’

Interested in preserving your photographic heritage? Contact MEMORIST today.

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