'Faces drawn in the sand': a rescue project of Native Peoples' photographs stored at the Museum of La Plata, Argentina - major project (EAP207)

Aims and objectives

This project aims to preserve for future research the photographic collections identified in the previous pilot project. Microfilm and digital copies of the collections stored at Museo de La Plata will be created.

The albums and collections that will be microfilmed are:

Guido Boggiani Album (Gran Chaco)

Pedro Godoy Album (Tierra del Fuego)

Francisco Moreno Album (Museo Antropológico de Buenos Aires,1878-Viaje 1883-1884)

Samuel Boote Album (Tehuelches)

Calchaquí Album (Calchaquí Valleys-NW Argentina)

Christiano Junior Album (Río Negro-Patagonia)

Julio Koslowski Collection (Patagonia)

Carlos Bruch Collection (Yungas, NW Argentina)

Roland Bonaparte Collection (Collection Anthropologique du Prince Roland Bonaparte-Old and New World)

Natalio Bernal Collection (Altiplano-Bolivia)

Fernando Lahille Collection (Tierra del Fuego)

Adolfo Methfessel Collection (NW Argentina)

Omar Gancedo Collection (Paraguay)

«Gaucho» Collection (Buenos Aires)

Hermann ten Kate Collection (Tehuelches)

Benjamin Muñíz Barretto Collection (NW Argentina)

«Vignati » Collection (Patagonia)

Fuegian Collection (Tierra del Fuego)

The collections stored at La Plata Museum provide a picture of pre-industrial societies of a wide area of South America during the late 19th - early 20th centuries. They include photographs on paper, albumens, and glass plate negatives. During the previous pilot project they were relocated to Archivo Histórico (Museo de La Plata) and are currently kept in good climatic conditions. The albums Boggiani, Bonaparte (Old and New World), and the Bolivian Collection represent objects used by ethnologists as visual data of distant Indian tribes. The Moreno Album contains images of F. P. Moreno's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, established in 1878. This album along with Calchaquí Album were presented at the Paris World Exhibition of 1878 and both contain very rare images.

The materials which have been affected by fungi and improperly stored have been physically stabilised and can be microfilmed. There are no back-ups of the glass plate negatives; their destruction would mean the definitive loss of the collections. Although the collections have been relocated, these unique collections have been damaged by years of bad conditions of storage that cannot be repaired. Thus microfilming is the proper way to ensure the survival of the material. Moreover, access to these materials being requested by different communities and researchers cannot be granted in their present state as there would be a great risk to the integrity of the collections and the total loss of legibility. Microfilming would allow open access to data for a history that is still waiting to be written.

La Plata Museum, Argentina , was established in 1884, dedicated to the study of American Man. It was the first institution of this kind in South America, resulting from the donation of several anthropological and archaeological collections gathered in the Argentinean interior during the 1870s. This Museum envisioned a continental scope: to achieve its goals it organised different strategies to collect objects that encompassed societies that, by those years, were perceived to be in the process of extinction. In the late 1870s and 1880s several campaigns against Native peoples from Patagonia and Chaco were carried out as governmental or private initiatives in order to erase savagery from the lands to be included into the market economy. Besides, indigenous peoples from Northwestern Argentina were incorporated as labour force into the new industries established in that region, such as the Ingenios (sugar refineries) from Tucumán, Salta y Jujuy. Either to record vanishing races or as testimony to the changes experienced by Native peoples in the process of becoming civilized, photographic expeditions were dispatched to the localities and scenes where the process was taking place. As a result, La Plata Museum became one of the repositories of the visual documents of a history that was not deeply analysed.

This proposal aims to:

a) List the materials, providing the cultural, social and political background in which the photographs were created;

b) Continue the training of local staff in the Image Permanence Institute of Rochester;

c) Microfilm all the photographic collections described in the pilot project. 35 mm microfilming will be used as the archival medium in combination with digital imaging. The process will be done in cooperation with CEHIPE photographers;

d) To create an online catalogue of the collection, with access from La Plata Museum web page;

e) To consolidate a Southern Cone local centre for the preservation of endangered archives with special focus on photography and glass plate negatives.


The following collections have been identified and described:

AFO: Archivo Fotográfico General- Sección Antropologíal

ARQ: Arqueología- Departamento arqueología- Sección Antropología

AYE: Ayerza- Colección Francisco Ayerza

BON: Bonaparte- Collection anthropologique du Prince Roland Bonaparte

BOO: Boote- Colección Samuel Boote

CDV: Cartes de visite- Colección Carte de visite

EUP: Exposición Universal de Paris- Museo Antropológico y Arqueológico de Buenos Aires. Exposición Universal de París

GAN: Gancedo- Colección Fotográfica Omar Gancedo

GOD: Godoy- Colección Gob. Pedro Godoy

KOG: Koch Grünberg- Koch-Grünberg Indianertypen aus dem Amazonasgebiet

Training for the project team included:

  • Seminar organised by the Image Permanence Institute, Preserving Photographs in a Digital World
  • Course: Digitalización del patrimonio documental (Documental Heritage Digitization). Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional, Montevideo, Uruguay.
  • Course dictated by Fernando Boro on basic principles of digitisation.
  • Training- Research. Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut (IAI) Berlin
  • Encuentro Memoria Visual. Berazategui, octubre 2009. Seminar and round tables on subjects such as photographic heritage, digitisation, photographic archives.
  • Training by Argentine National Archives member in archival issues.

All the photographic collections described in the previous pilot project have been microfilmed and digitised. All of the original materials are housed in Museo de La Plata, La Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Most of them are kept in Museo de La Plata’s Historical and Photographic Archive under controlled environmental conditions. There are three collections kept in the Florentino Ameghino Library also housed at the building of Museo de La Plata : BON, GOD and KOG; and one in the Archaeology Department: ARQ (Museo de La Plata building). The digitised master copies are kept on an external hard disk drive and in the Museum’s server as well as the access copies; the microfilm master is kept in CEHIPE, Rosario, Argentina, and there is a copy in the Florentino Ameghino Library. The British Library also has copies.

An online catalogue has been designed and is in the process of being completed. A Southern Cone local centre has been consolidated, for the preservation of endangered archives with special focus on photography.

The team has taken part in activities such as the ICA/SUV Conference and Encuentro Memoria Visual, Berazategui which gave the project visibility and allowed contact with other professionals working in related subjects: photographic archives, historical archives, digitisation and heritage conservation and led the team to strengthen connections.

Resulting from the project, the project directors Tatiana Kelly and Irina Podgorny have published the book Los secretos de Barba Azul. Fantasías y realidades de los archivos del Museo de La Plata.

Read online the open access article: A charlatan’s album: cartes-de-visite from Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay (1860-1880), published in the EAP Anniversary publication From Dust to Digital. The article can also be downloaded as a PDF (571KB).

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as: