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Photograph Institute in Beirut Helps Preserve Rich Heritage of Middle East

BEIRUT.- The photographic treasures of the Middle East span the archaeological expeditions of the 1800s, whose images of great pyramids and sphinxes opened the world's eyes to the region, to the wedding parties, refugee camps, and other scenes of daily life that show both the beauty and tumult of today.

Preserving this photographic heritage is the focus of a two-week educational institute now being hosted in Beirut, Lebanon, by the University of Delaware and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in collaboration with the Arab Image Foundation. The institute is being held at the American University of Beirut.

Fifteen participants from major private and public collections in Lebanon, Egypt, Iran and Jordan are engaged in the first-ever program, which is funded by a $115,000 grant from the Getty Foundation.

The Photograph Preservation Institute is under the direction of Debra Hess Norris, vice provost for graduate and professional education, chairperson of the Department of Art Conservation and Henry F. du Pont Chair in Fine Arts at the University of Delaware, and Nora W. Kennedy, the Sherman Fairchild Conservator of Photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Fairchild also is an adjunct professor in the Conservation Center, Institute of Fine Arts, at New York University.

“Despite a wealth of photographic heritage dating from the early 19th century to the present, there are no formally trained photograph conservators in the Middle East,” Norris said.

“Our hope is that this program will advance the practice of photograph preservation throughout the region, as well as foster the exchange of preservation ideas, philosophies and techniques that will strengthen ties among us as conservators,” Norris noted.

Norris and Kennedy have a combined 45 years of experience in photograph conservation and training. They have designed and taught workshops around the world and are the directors of the Collaborative Workshops in Photograph Conservation, supported by grants totaling more than $1 million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation since 1997.

Norris said their collaboration with the Arab Image Foundation led to the program. The non-profit foundation was established in Lebanon in 1996 to promote photography in the Middle East and North Africa by locating, collecting and preserving the region's photographic heritage.

The institute includes lectures, demonstrations, hands-on projects, visits to view collections, and case studies. Norris and Kennedy serve as the primary instructors, with additional presentations by an international array of experts.

Bertrand Lavédrine, professor and director of the Centre de Recherches sur la Conservation des Documents Graphiques, Paris, France, is discussing the scientific aspects of image formation and deterioration, and Martin Jurgens, a photograph conservator in private practice from Germany, is addressing the scanning and digitization of collections and the preservation of digital archives.

Issam Nasser of Bradley University is presenting the history of photography in the Middle East. Zeina Arida, Akram Zaatari and Tamara Sawaya of the Arab Image Foundation will lecture on fundraising for preservation and the collecting and exhibiting of Arab photography.

“We are grateful to the Getty Foundation and to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for their long-standing commitment to preservation advocacy, education and training,” Norris said. “We believe this two-week workshop will serve as a model for other international initiatives aimed at the preservation of our global photographic heritage for the enrichment, education and empowerment of future generations.”

The University of Delaware is one of only a handful of universities in the United States to offer the graduate degree in art conservation including an emphasis in photographic conservation.

Recently, the U.S. Department of State chose the University of Delaware as a partner in the Iraq Cultural Project. It involves the University of Delaware, Winterthur Museum & Country Estate, and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore in designing a new conservation and historic preservation institute that will train professionals in Iraq in preserving the country's historic treasures and more than 12,000 registered archaeological sites.

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