Endangered Archives

EAP054: Archiving a Cameroonian photographic studio

Dr David Zeitlyn, University of Kent
2006 award - Major project
£36,838 for 15 months

Archival partner: Cameroon National Archives, University of Dschang, University of Yaoundé


Project Overview

The economic basis for professional black and white photography in Cameroon disappeared in 1998 with the introduction of new identity cards. They were issued with instant photographs, removing the need for 'passport photographs'. These had been the main work of rural photographers who could process and print the film without needing access to electricity. A small supporting industry of photographers, such as have been celebrated in exhibitions e.g. of the work of Seidou Keita, has effectively been destroyed by computerisation of the identity cards and the arrival of cheaper colour 35mm processing in the cities.

One such studio photographer is Jacques Toussele, with a collection of some 20,000 negatives, but who is aging and is not in the best of health. He can recognise many of the people in the photographs, enabling future research to be undertaken, thus greatly enhancing the importance of the archive.

The collection is vulnerable: physically it is stored in a back room of the studio and the roof is leaking - there are signs of deterioration and damage, with some negatives stuck together.

African black and white photography has been recognised as important through some celebrated exhibitions and publications (e.g. of Sidibé, Augustt and Keita) but this has not translated into action to preserve the work of other photographers. Few collections of West African photography have been archived and none are available for study from Cameroon. The archives will enable research in, for example, changing aesthetics, fashions and as the basis for family history research.

Digital SLRs will be used to copy the negatives. Since the negatives are 120 format the images will be of sufficiently high quality to be useful for research purposes. The archives will be housed at the National Archives in Yaoundé, with further copies available for study at the British Council Library in Cameroon and in two Cameroonian Universities: The University of Dschang (the nearest University to the location of the photographer) and the University of Ngaoundéré.

Project Outcome

The aim of the project was to help protect the personal photographic archives of Mr J Toussele, a Cameroonian photographer in the town of Mbouda, Western Region, Cameroon. The archives represent a record of life in this area over the past thirty years. Before the project began they were in a poor state of preservation.

As a result of the project, all the archive has been scanned. The original negatives have been placed in labelled, archival sleeving before being returned to Mr Toussele. An outline listing has been prepared and copies of the archive have been left on hard disk in a number of different Cameroonian institutions:

  • Cameroon National Archives
  • University of Dschang
  • University of Yaoundé
  • University of Ngaoundéré
  • British Council, Yaoundé
  • and with Mr Toussele

Since the autumn of 2012, this project has been the subject of a PhD research project carried out by Ewa Majczak. Ewa is based at the University of Oxford, in collaboration with the British Library, and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. She will be carrying out research in Cameroon, where she will contact the photographer, Jacques Toussele, as well as some of the people appearing in the photographs. In addition to writing a thesis, she will engage in other activities including the addition of information to the existing catalogue records for the collection.

Read online the open access article: Archiving a Cameroonian photographic studio, published in the EAP Anniversary publication From Dust to Digital. The article can also be downloaded as a PDF (522KB).

Blog: Using face recognition to find an EAP Christmas Card, 16 December 2015

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as:

  • EAP054/1 Archiving a Cameroonian photographic studio