Endangered Archives

EAP542: Cameroon Photo Press Archives. Protection, conservation, access

Dr Jürg Schneider, University of Basel, Centre for African Studies
2012 award - Major project
£29,451 for 24 months

Archival partner: Cameroon Press Photo Archives

Project Overview

The Cameroon Press Photo Archives (CPPA) were founded in Buea in January 1955 by the British colonial administration and were operational until Anglophone West Cameroon unified with the Francophone Republic of Cameroun under President Ahmadou Ahidjo, to form the United Republic of Cameroon in 1972. The photographers working with the government were responsible for covering the President’s and Prime Minister’s agendas as well as any official events of public interest. Thus, the photographic material held by the CPPA grants a unique view of Cameroon’s history for a time period which was, and still is, crucial for its political and social formation. The proposed project will not only secure the material for future research but also raise the awareness of the government and the Cameroonian public for this invaluable visual heritage.

The premises of the CPPA are located in an old and badly maintained colonial building in Buea Town. The negatives are packed in paper envelopes and stored in wooden boxes. All the material is kept in wooden cupboards. The climatic conditions in this part of the country are extreme with regard to rainfall and humidity.

This project has three main components: the first part consists of the digitisation of part of the photographic holdings of the CPPA in Buea. 3,500 groundsheets will be scanned as well as a selection of about 15,000 negatives from a total of about 85,000 negatives, according to pre-defined criteria such as the state of decay of the negative and the relevance and quality of the contact print. Additional attention will be given to some basic conservational measures in that the groundsheets will be re-arranged in new labelled acid free sleeves.

The second part aims at raising the awareness of archivists and young researchers from universities in Cameroon and Switzerland to the challenges and opportunities that work and research in, and with, photographic material can entail as well as in capacity building measures for this group of persons both on a practical and a theoretical level.

The third component consists in negotiating between the Ministry of Communication (responsible for the CPPA) and the Ministry of Culture (in charge of the National Archives branch in Buea) for the relocation of the photographic material to the adjacent Buea National Archives. This move from the CPPA to the National Archives would improve the protection of the vulnerable material and facilitate the access of researchers to the visual records.

Training workshops in digitisation techniques will be held and two work stations will be set up in the premises of the CPPA. Workflow descriptions with regard to the digitisation process, the selection of negatives for scanning, listing and database entries as well as conservation measures to be carried out, will be established and explained to the group working in the CPPA. Mr Mbwaye Emmanuel, the person responsible for the establishment of the CPPA in 1955, although in his eighties, is still very much committed to the Photo Archive and will serve as an invaluable resource person when it comes to the identification of the photographs where written information is lacking.

Project Outcome