Medellin

Latin America’s largest antique negative archive in Medellin

posted by Philipp Zwehl
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The Piloto public library in Colombia’s second largest city Medellin has Latin America’s largest archive of negatives, containing 1.7 million antique photographs covering Colombia 1848 until 2005.

With its extensive collection of antique photographs, the archive is considered to be one of the four most important one of its kind in South America, archive director Jackeline Garcia told Colombia Reports.

“This [archive] is the space where we conserve and preserve antique materials and like this the photographic heritage of the region and Colombia,” the archive director said.

The archive is located in the Biblioteca Publica Piloto, near Carlos E park and is divided into two parts on two floors.

On the first floor there is a permanent exhibition of artifacts like antique cameras and photo albums that can be visited through guided tours which must be scheduled about one week in advance.

“In this permanent exhibition we have guided tours with photography students, history students or just people who love photography. With showing them the antique cameras, enlargers, lenses, all items that can be seen here, we introduce them to a part of Colombia’s visual wealth,” said Garcia.

The second floor contains the archive and is off limits to visitors. It’s kept from the public in order to keep a special temperature between 57 and 61 degrees Fahrenheit (14 – 16 Celsius) which is necessary for the preservation of the original negatives, according to the director.

The archive was founded in 1980 when the public library of Medellin acquired 7,000 glass negatives from the personal collection of Colombian photographer Benjamin de la Calle.

Over the course of time, more and more photographers and institutions decided to donate or sell parts of their collections to the archive, like for example in 1995 when the family of photographer Meliton Rodriguez donated their collection of 220,000 negatives to the archive.

In 2012, the archive was recognized by the UNESCO Regional Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean and added to the regional list of the Memory of the World Program.

All of the 32 photographers which are featured in the collection are considered equally important, because “all of these photographers show us different topics from different angles, so they complete each other because what the one artist doesn’t show, the other artist will.”

This is the reason why the collection covers a wide range of topics like architecture, sports, celebrities of the 1960s and the urban transformation process of Medellin.

At this point, the archive offers the access to over 18,000 digitized images via the library website providing detailed information about the images for research interests and the possibility of purchasing them in high resolution.

These images have been carefully restored and digitized in a costly process including special cameras and scanners that was partly financed by a 2009 award won by the archive and donated by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Visitors of the library also have the chance to see one of the archive’s photographer’s works in a special exhibition about Meliton Rodriguez that was put up in cooperation with the Los Andes University in Bogota.

Guided tours through the permanent exhibition can be scheduled through fotografico@bibliotecapiloto.com.co or via phone: 0057/4/4600587.

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Philipp Zwehl is an International Development graduate from Munich, Germany.

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