Charbel Saad, digital collections coordinator at Arab Image Foundation, will be introducing his work within one of the most interesting archival institutions in the world at our day-symposium ACTIVATING THE ARCHIVE: Contemporary Uses of Visual Archives held at Arnolfini alongside Thomas Sauvin, Amak Mahmoodian, Vicki Bennett, Francesca Seravalle, Maja Daniels and guest contributor Kensuke Koike on the May 5th 2018. This event is supported by the Arts Council of England and co-presented with Arnolfini. Early bird tickets are still available, limited capacity.


BOOK TICKETS HERE  https://goo.gl/5ejZey


What has led to your involvement with archival material?


Growing up in Beirut, amidst the demolitions and reconstructions that followed the Lebanese Civil War, I didn’t have many clues of my Lebanese and Arab identities, especially that education of Lebanese history in local schools concludes, even until today, with the country’s independence in 1943. When I came across the collections of the Arab Image Foundation, I was fascinated with the subjects, locations and everyday lifestyles portrayed in the photographs, which offered a wider perspective and a more familiar narrative than the images I grew up with. Joining the Arab Image Foundation in 2013 offered me a first hand experience with these intimate photographs from my region’s past, and an opportunity to contribute to the institution’s mission in digitisation, using the skills I acquired throughout my undergraduate studies in graphic design.


How does the Arab Image Foundation activate, and present, the material it collects?



The Arab Image Foundation has presented its work to the public over the past 20 years through exhibitions, publications, videos and public events, in partnership with international museums, galleries, cultural institutions and schools. These productions were not conventionally curated or edited endeavours, but rather artist-driven initiatives that build on the research projects being carried out by members of the AIF. Since 2015, the AIF has taken on a more focused mission of digitising its photographic collections, covering over 600,000 items in various formats, in preparation for the launch of its new online database in September 2018, to be accompanied by the re-opening of its public space in Beirut.





In a post-digital world, what role do physical archives play?



Over the past years, our archivists put a tremendous amount of work in cleaning, numbering and storing our collections in conditions appropriate to their physical state. Without their contributions in organising the archive, digitisation cannot possibly be a sustainable activity. We believe that the physical collections will always remain the primary source of information. Our objective therefore, through digitisation, is to capture as many layers of information from the original material as we can, a process that is heavily dependent on the imaging guidelines we defined for ourselves, and the equipment we use, whether it was a flatbed scanners or camera reproduction stands. For even though we strive on producing long-lasting digital images, we understand that they are not here to replace the original material, but to facilitate its access and use.


Briefly, what can we expect from your talk?



For those who are not already familiar with our work, my talk will shed light on the unique nature of the Arab Image Foundation as an institution, explaining the involvement of artists and scholars in constructing the collections and studying them through their personal practices and narratives. I will take the chance to highlight a few subjects within the collections, among whom amateur, professional and anonymous photographers, as well as families and collectors who entrusted us with their photographs. I will also give an inside look into our work today, and the various efforts we are taking in the digitisation of our photographic collections.