What do you do when you find a photograph album whose binding is broken and whose leaves have become so brittle that their edges break very easily on touching? This was the case for these photographs of Sistan, the historical region in present-day eastern Iran, southern Afghanistan and the Nok Kundi region of Balochistan (western Pakistan). These 256 photographs were made from films presented to the RAS in 1903 by Sir Thomas Robert John Ward, an engineer working in the India region for much of his life. We no longer have the films or negatives so it is not possible to make new copies. But, in fact, the photographs themselves are in a fairly good condition; it is the paper that they are mounted on that is badly deteriorating. However we cannot just remove the photographs from the paper as they are pasted on to both sides of each sheet and also many pictures have captions written on the paper explaining about the photograph.
So how to continue to make these accessible? First, ask an expert. I am very grateful to the conservator, Mark Barnard, for taking the time to examine the album and give his advice when he and David Jacobs were working on conserving the Chinese-Latin Dictionaries here at the RAS. His suggestion was to carefully cut the binding threads that were still in place and rehouse each sheet in a melinex cover, a special polyester film that protects archival material. These could then be housed in an archival file so the photographs could be viewed without further damage to the paper.
So this afternoon, I undertook the process and rehoused the material.
So, if you would like to view Helmand Valley in 1903,or see the sites of Peshawaran and Kul Marut, I can now give you access to these photographs. A satisfying afternoon’s work.