Tartu Riiklik Ülikool pildis: Tartu Riikliku Ülikooli kino-fotolaboratooriumi negatiivikogu TÜ ajaloo muuseumis
Tartu University in Pictures: Negative collection of Tartu State University’s Film and Photography Laboratory at the University of Tartu History Museum
MA Janet Laidla, UT History Museum
Photographs past events are deemed valuable source material and illustrations. As the photo industry is constantly evolving, the photographing process has become cheaper, simpler and more widely available, with more and more photos preserved as a result. Yet only a small number of photographs reaches museums because many images are discarded by their authors and owners. But what if number of photos is really large?
Between 1997-1999 the University of Tartu History Museum received a collection of items that belonged to the Film and Photography Laboratory of the Tartu State University. Among these items was a collection of negatives that totals around 50,000 negatives and a card index with some 3000 contact copies. Not all of the negatives are listed in the card index with the contact copies, and not all of the contact copies have the corresponding negatives preserved in the collection. The photographs are in small and medium-sized format and their average condition is quite good.
One of the valuable factors of this collection of negatives is its integrity. The collection was created for the purpose of systematic perpetuation of university events and of the people and items associated with the university. The scope of topics recorded is wide. Represented are various university events (public ceremonies, anniversaries and visits by prominent guests), scientific activities (conferences, exhibitions, equipment, laboratories and experiments), administration and management aspects (construction work and employees) and student life (the Student Scientific Association, student construction crew, studies and hostels). There are also many views of Tartu and events in the city that are not directly connected with the university. In addition to the chronicling of events, the photo collection shows the society, fashion, technology and customs of the times. As this is an institutional collection, it offers a vivid imprint of the characteristic traits of the period, including public life in the Estonian SSR.
The main problem with the collection of negatives is not that its arrangement, registration or description require a lot of time, but that use of the collection by a visitor or researcher is likely to be quite complicated. Assuming the collection is transferred to digital format and made accessible via a database, there may be thousands of images matching one title or keyword. For instance, we can predict that the titles of at least 20,000 negatives are likely to include the phrase ‘Tartu State University’. Naturally, restrictions can be applied to displaying search results, but users might still experience difficulties, with no overview of the contents of the collection of negatives and no ability to discern the logic of the person who entered their descriptions (just as that person could not foresee the logic of the user’s search). At the same time, it is likely that no one is competent to decide in advance which negatives will be required by researchers in one, five or 50 years’ time, so it is not expedient to sort the negatives now.