Manitoba History: Review: Alain Clavet (coordinator), Guide to Canadian Photographic Archives

by Elizabeth Blight
Provincial Archives of Manitoba

Manitoba History, Number 1, 1981

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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The Guide to Canadian Photographic Archives consists of a listing of 2,800 photograph collections available in the 110 participating repositories. The entries are arranged alphabetically by collection titles submitted by the participating institutions. The information supplied with each entry consists of a brief biographical note about the originator of the collection of photographs, the period covered by the photographs. the number and type of photographs in the collection and a description of the main subjects covered by the photographs. Also included in the Guide is an index and a brief alphabetical listing of the holdings of each institution. The entries are in either English or French according to the language in which the original was submitted. Fully bilingual editions are planned for the future.

When the Guide was envisioned in 1977 the aim was to index and describe individually all collections of photographs in Canadian repositories. The Guide was to fulfill the same function for photographic research as the Union List of Manuscripts in Canadian Repositories does for manuscript research—to enable researchers to locate material relevant to their project in the various photographic repositories across Canada. The Guide fails on two counts.

The initiators of the Guide were on the staff of the Public Archives of Canada and the concepts underlying the Guide are based on a photographic archives organized and arranged like their own, that is, one in which the holdings are arranged as collections of photographs which have been produced or brought together by an individual or institution. Rightly or wrongly, not all archival repositories in Canada organize their holdings in this manner. Nor did many of the repositories have sufficient time or staff to fill out the necessary entry forms to be able to cover their total holdings.

The result is that the entries in the Guide are very uneven. Of the 2,800 entries, 1,800 are from the Public Archives of Canada leaving 1,000 entries spread among the 109 other repositories. There are for instance, 21 entries listed for the Oakville Museum, Oakville, Ontario, while the Glenbow Alberta Institute in Calgary has only 13 entires but surely has a larger total collection.

The individual entries range from one for a single photograph at the Public Archives of Canada of an unidentified woman taken by the Winnipeg photographic firm of Nicholls and Parkin to one for 150,000 photographs by various Canadian photographers at the Notman Photographic Archives in Montreal.

The other limitation of the Guide results from the fact that there is often a difference between the requirements of researchers using photographic material and researchers using manuscript material. While researchers consulting manuscript material are usually interested in consulting a range of documentation created by an individual or institution, the researchers dealing with visual items are usually interested in specific images. It would be very difficult to locate such images using the Guide. On the other hand, it would be equally as difficult to find all the works by one photographer.

In spite of its shortcomings the Guide to Canadian Photographic Archives will be of value to anyone interested in using the vast resources of the National Photography Collection at the Public Archives of Canada.

Nothing will replace the researcher contacting the archival photograph repository directly and the Guide to Canadian Photographic Archives supplies addresses not only for the familiar institutions but also for the smaller lesser known repositories.