Should film photography be protected as ‘cultural heritage’?

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Minolta X-500 and coffee cup (Pic: Patrick Winzler/Pexels)
Nevena Ilic is asking film photographers to complete a survey which gives a snapshot of the analogue community in the 21st Century (Pic: Patrick Winzler/Pexels)

Should film photography be considered cultural heritage worthy of protection? One European PhD student thinks so, and now she is asking the film photography community if they agree.

Nevena Ilic, who is studying cultural heritage via the Évora and Lisbon University in Portugal, has created a survey asking film photographers their thoughts on film’s cultural importance.

The survey, which takes around nine minutes to complete, can be found here. Ilic said in an email to Kosmo Foto that the project’s goal was “to safeguard film photography and pronounce it as a world cultural heritage”.

Ilic’s studies follow on from a master’s degree she undertook based on the history of film photography and the Fotokemika plant in the former Yugoslavia which produced Efke-brand film in particular. (Ilic grew up in Yugoslavia.)

“When we talk about film photography nowadays, we are already discussing the process no longer in global use. If we go back in time, approximately just 20 years ago, the only medium in photography in everyday life usage was film or gelatin-silver process,” she says.

“At the beginning of the new millennium, film production in the photographic film industry peaked, and just a short period later, the decline started. In an interview for FujiLove magazine in February 2021, Manny Almeida, president of the imaging division at Fujifilm North America Corporation, said: ‘The photographic market peaked in the United States around 2003. That was the peak year for film sales. Depending on whose research you look at, there were roughly 860,000,000 rolls of film sold that year. Since then, the market has declined and today it’s roughly 2% of what it used to be. A little bit less than 2%.’

“What caused such a drastic change? Maybe that is a very banal question, as the answer is obvious: digital photography. Because of the explosive nature of digital technology and fast development, there was a growing decrease in the prices of digital equipment, so it came as no surprise that photography passed through the most extensive and most rapid change in the history of the medium. The law of supply and demand and the transition of the medium caused an accelerated collapse of the photographic film industry.

“Some museums dedicated to photography as a George Eastman Museum declared the gelatin sliver process historical, and nearly every college photography program teaches darkroom methods and skills.  My question here is: Should film photography or gelatin silver process be recognised as heritage? For what reasons?

The project’s goal is to safeguard film photography, know-how knowledge in this type of photography and pronounce it as a world cultural heritage

“I am a PhD researcher in heritage studies, and the subject of my research is film photography or gelatin sliver process. My second master’s was based upon the Fotokemika factory and film photographic industry, so I decided to do my doctoral research about the position of film photography in the 21st Century as I realised the rapid decline and disappearance of film photography in the world. Also, being an amateur photographer and very passionate about film photography, the type of photography that reminds me of my childhood and growing up, so I need to admit that I’m pretty nostalgic about it in the digital era.

“The project’s goal is to safeguard film photography, know-how knowledge in this type of photography and pronounce it as a world cultural heritage.

“One of my methods in the research is a survey as the easiest way to try to reach a worldwide film photography community and get a diversity of answers from all around the world. This survey is designed for the users of film photography, as an integral part of my PhD project ‘Analogue photography as tangible and intangible world heritage’.

Ilic says the community’s answers “will contribute to the study to gain a better insight into the position of film photography in the 21st Century”. Ilic says the project is the first step towards protecting film photography under Unesco’s ‘intangible culture’ guidelines.

Ilic says the survey will be public until the end of October.

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Stephen Dowling
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Amigo toro
Amigo toro
1 year ago