The Challenge of Quantity
Challenges and Processing Practices in Analogue Photography at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France

The processing of photographs presents a unique set of problems at the BnF, given the quantity and range of its collections and the diversity of its tasks. At the same time some of the issues – the role of photographs, their use, the specifics of description, large-scale accessibility – are also relevant to other institutions. Faced with these questions, various directors and curators of the former Prints Department developed or adapted methodological and technical approaches aimed at making cataloguing more efficient and the images more accessible. Standardisation, automation and dematerialisation have since eased the professional burden, but these successive phases have in turn impinged on processing policies by raising new questions and priorities. Reviving rather than resolving issues relating to the particularities, plurality and materiality of the collections, they brought – and continue to bring – ongoing adjustments necessitated by changing apprehensions of photography.

Jude Talbot, reproduction numérique de La Grande Vague de Gustave Le Gray, dont les rendus varient selon les étalonnages d’écrans (tablette, ordinateur portable, smartphone et ordinateur de bureau), pour une intervention au séminaire « Culture matérielle, culture visuelle » à l’Université de Lille III le 3 juin 2015. Paris, BnF, département Estampes et photographie.

Since 2003, paleographic archivist Dominique Versavel has been curator of the modern photography and press collection at the BnF’s Department of Prints and Photography. In 2014 she was appointed head of the photography division. She has contributed to the curating and the catalogues of the exhibitions Objets dans l’objectif (2005), Sebastião Salgado. Territoires et vies (2005–2006), La Photographie humaniste. Autour d’Izis, Boubat, Brassaï, Doisneau, Ronis (2006), La Presse à la Une (2012), Alix Cléo Roubaud (2014) and Icônes de Mai 68. Les images ont une histoire (2018).

Citation: Dominique Versavel, « À l’épreuve du nombre. Enjeux et pratiques du traitement de la photographie argentique à la Bibliothèque nationale de France », Transbordeur. Photographie histoire société, no. 3, 2019, pp. 112-123.
Transbordeur
Annual peer-reviewed journal