The major project EAP 946, funded by the Endangered Archives Programme (British Library- Arcadia), will create the first archive of Tamil studio photography, namely family portraiture, from the time of the introduction of commercial photo studios in the second half of the 19th century up to the introduction of mechanized photographic processing. The project aims to cover the different productions of black and white manually processed studio photography (prints, negatives and glass plates) which are rapidly disappearing either through natural degradation or, in many cases, voluntary destruction. The feasibility of creating this archive was explored in the pilot project EAP737 through the survey of 100 studios in 14 localities.
The photographic productions of Tamil studios are extremely endangered for the very obvious reason of the particularly detrimental tropical climate of southern India with its year-long high ratio of humidity. There are however further factors which have resulted in a vast destruction of a large part of material and a further deterioration of what is still remaining: for over a half a century, if not longer, studios have been regularly and voluntarily destroying their archives by selling negatives (glass and film) to silver-extractors (several of them were met during the pilot project EAP 737); many of the earliest studios have closed over the last 30 years and the descendants of studio photographers have no interest or understanding for their forefathers’ photographic productions; the situation is similar for photographers still practising in the family studio. Even the minimal preservation conditions for negatives and prints is unheard of.
The EAP 946 archive would provide researchers with unique visual material and metadata of Tamil society at moments of crucial social and cultural changes.