How archives, museums and cultural institutions can change the accessibility and searchability of images by expanding controlled vocabularies with local knowledge and participation.

Anke Schürer-Ries

Palavras-chave: Decolonising through technical strategies; Fluidity of Photographs; tagging; geo ethnic controlled vocabularies; knowledge systems

Participação: on-line

Photographs created on the African continent and relocated to repositories off the continent, carry the burden of “double dislocation” and “hybrid cultural identities”. This is rarely reflected in the way they can be accessed and are tagged in digital databases, which are at the core of rapid change of the archival landscape through technology. The act of archiving should “always be a critical one” or at least “an engagement, an interruption of a settled field”, enabling the mutability of the archives to contribute to the decolonisation of knowledge systems in cultural institutions. The common archival approach to apply standardised controlled vocabularies, standards and cataloguing fields does not always account for the “discontinuities, discursive links and breaks” in history, and parallel systems of knowledge. The fluidity of photography has always challenged the archives as photography’s truth does not necessarily coincide with the imagined or text-based truth commonly reflected in archives’ catalogues. New emerging methodological approaches, however, consider both the technical and descriptive tools, which has wider implications for institutions dealing with photography. I argue that decolonising archives entails including local participation and knowledge in technical advancement to expand methods of annotation, which would give images substantive depth. Using the example of the Fritz Ramseyer Collection, I illustrate how the creation of geo-ethnic controlled vocabularies incorporate various lateral knowledge systems into standardised approaches to peoples, places and notions, thereby expanding the accessibility and searchability of images.


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Anke Schürer-Ries is a data curator and research associate at the Cluster of Excellence Africa Multiple at the University of Bayreuth. Her focus is on visual cultures and the interplay of photography and archives as well as collections examined through photographic collections created by Swiss missionaries in Africa.