Any photography collection is in and of itself a strange beast.
Collecting photos is a tantalising enterprise, a hopeless
endeavour. As Susan Sonntag once pointed out: 'To collect
photographs is to collect the world.' After all, the raison
d'etre for any other collection is the salvaging and assembling of
things that have a unique existence and value. Photographs can be
many things, but they can never be unique. And in a world
overflowing with images, it can be questioned whether they need
salvaging. However, working with a photography collection is a lot
of fun. Many people might think that taking care of a photography
collection solely involves searching for interesting practitioners
and looking at beautiful pictures, followed by spending taxpayers'
money on acquisitions for museums. Many academics ponder such
important questions as how photography collections inform and
change the history of the medium, and whether collections are
neutral depositories of images or form part of institutional
But few people realize that the real work involved in keeping
and maintaining a photography collection is actually quite hands-on
and happenstance. Much time goes into transporting the pictures to
and from depots. More time goes into packaging the works
adequately. As Sonntag states: 'Photographs, which package the
world, seem to invite packaging.' After that, they need to be
scanned, labeled, barcoded, measured, described and photographed.
This is no irony. Photographic images in collections get
photographed in order to enter their pictures in a database and to
produce labels. All this is done in order to keep track of the
works. And after all that prodding and packaging, you find out that
you have forgotten to take that one measurement, to look into that
one little detail you needed in order to complete your database, or
to attach that one particular label. Or you discover that you have
used the same barcode twice, which will cause you no end of
headaches further down the line. All of which means you will have
to trudge back to the depot and start the process all over
However, the most fascinating part of working with a photography
collection is seeing the works up close and personal. Despite the
inherent ability for reproduction and ease of dissemination of
images - especially in the age of the internet - there is something
I really like about the tangibility of pictures neatly wrapped in
plastic in a storage space. There are photographs I fell in love
with immediately, such as Fleur Boonman's little travelogue. There
are images that grow on me every time I see them, like Corriette
Schoenaerts' photo of a bookshelf. And then there are the black
sheep, which can be found in every single photography collection.
The images that make you think: how the hell did this end up here?
Who on earth thought it was a good idea to add? Why was it
included? But there is also the growing sense of ownership, a
genuine feeling that all these works belong to you. And when you
see them being exhibited elsewhere, as happened during Foam's
presentation at Rencontres d' Arles last summer, there is that
overflowing sense of pride. The little children have grown up and
spread their wings to be seen by the rest of the world.
 Susan Sontag: 'On Photography'. Page 3 and 4.