On the occasion of the release of some preliminary studies to analyse how to carry out the conservation and digitisation of the Planas Archive, we learn first-hand the impressions and experiences of Josep Pérez Pena.
Let’s get to know Josep Pérez Pena a little better.
He graduated in Image from the University of Barcelona and trained as a photographic conservator at the Ángel Fuentes de Cía studio in Zaragoza. Since 1996 he has been working as a photo conservator, cooperating with different organisations, collaborating in publications and cultural events, as well as teaching. His research focuses on photographic conservation.
It should be remembered that these studies have received the support of the Balearic Islands Government through the Department of Work and Tourism and European Funds with a direct subsidy of €29,000.
Why might the Planas Archive disappear?
Because it has material risks caused by its compositional materials and the environment in which it is located. To counteract this threat, it is necessary to deepen our knowledge of it, to care for it by providing it with adequate protection measures and to make it known in order to make all these efforts profitable.
Apart from these fundamental principles, the question is very interesting from the point of view of the word “disappearance”. An archive, like any other cultural product, does not exist without users, it could be said that if the current interest and possibilities of use by its custodians had not been generated, it would have already disappeared. It could be a potential archive, latent, waiting to be discovered or put to use, but it would be dormant or perhaps dead. An archive is alive when it is worked on and made available to the public who participate in its good use.
Why do we need to preserve photographic heritage?
For many reasons: it is a cultural custom, and sometimes it is a legal heritage obligation. What is important, however, is that if it can be preserved, it constitutes a direct, ontological witness to the determining technical and material origin of what it contains as information. We often think of photographs as just images, but it is difficult to understand that a photograph can be thought of without what it was at birth, and here it is more enriching to think that a photograph is also an object that holds an image, and that this dimension broadly orients itself in all the material circumstance that made its existence possible, and also its characteristics and appearance. Moreover, this same material circumstance is knowledge and history.
What role do archives play in the construction of history?
If making history means looking for news, an archive is a mine of news, pieces of the archaeology of the image at both the technical and content levels. The rest is the creation of discourse and meaning, with the inevitable interpretative, sometimes highly ideological, addition.
These pieces have a polyhedral enriching dimension: where sometimes it seems that we find material for History, a wider view allows us to appreciate other angles and levels of reading that make the archives sources of knowledge for other enquiries.
What pearl of Casa Planas has surprised you?
Many, I’ll take a whole necklace. To begin with the whole, the massive and rich ensemble that is presented, even the space. Also its pop, ye-*yé character, with many shades of pearly, from the nostalgic charm of the objects and images to the terribleness of the review of the transformation of the landscape and the very diverse interpretations to which it invites. The management and control systems he shows are curious and militant, as well as the didactics of industrial production systems.
And as for the exhibits, the collection of antique furniture and photographs is impressive. One more brushstroke to add to the many clippings that illustrate in an endearing way the vicissitudes of the commercial and cultural adventure of Mr Planas.
What are the problems with cellulose acetate supports in terms of conservation and durability? Why do you think this material was chosen?
The material chosen is not optional in times when industrial production is the rule: availability becomes an imperative imposition of the manufacturers. This is an inherent feature of consumer technology that has affected us for a long time and will increasingly do so as long as we comply with it as consumers.
In this case, the problem of preserving the plastic bases of flexible photographic negatives is due to the problem of ageing of the material in which they were made, cellulose acetate in this case, and the lack of knowledge of the risks this posed. A transparent and flexible material was sought, and acetate was the right choice. Later on, we have ostensibly seen that it is far from being resistant to the passage of time so now we have a conflict: we have very alterable support that was used, moreover, on a massive scale because at the time of its implementation the use of photography had become very widespread as it became a simple and cheap practice so that the problem is serious, complex and massive. We have the information and the methods to act, but it is difficult to foresee whether we will be able to deal with all the affected material before the reaction time runs out. At Casa Planas, there are some very germinal signs of this syndrome, but it is urgent to act or we could lose part of the archive.