Located in Beirut, The Arab Image Foundation launched a new online platform and domain name last May, nearly 20 years after its creation. The new platform aims to provide an enhanced user experience and accessibility to its extensive online collections of more than 25000 photographic objects from 81 collections.
After two and a half years of preparations and the development of a new content management system, the new platform now provides increased access to newly digitized collections and features hyper-image tools, online residencies, as well as a developed search engine.
“We built this platform in a way that reflects our stance today: more open, more inclusive and more collaborative,” said Marc Mouarkech, Managing Director of the Arab Image Foundation. “The new platform will allow us to put into practice our new mission statement and preservation practice vis-à-vis our community, re-connect with the public after more than two years hiatus and open channels for research, initiate critical debate, foster new ideas, and encourage creative and collaborative work-processes”.
A space to showcase and think photography in the Arab world
The platform features a new design with four main sections. One dedicated to the extensive Collection of the foundation, where the visitor can navigate between the different collections and photographs by alphabetical order or by collections. It works as a big database featuring digital versions of 25000+ objects spanning 14 countries and a set of interactive hyper-image tools that allow visitors to comment, tag, use and share the objects. The Lab section is an experimentation hub that allows imaginative thinking and transdisciplinary research by connecting artists, writers, thinkers, researchers and people from all fields together. Explore is a window onto the evolution of the contemporary image and collecting practices through the foundation’s different activities. And finally Engage is a call to connect with the foundation through its programs and activities, such as residencies.
Preservation of Middle East photography heritage
The Arab Image Foundation is an independent association born twenty years ago, out of a will to preserve the photographic regional heritage, by creating a place of archiving but also artistic creation, research, and exploration.
Today, the collection includes over 500,000 photographic objects and documents from and related to the Middle East, North Africa and the Arab diaspora, which has been gradually gathered over the years by artists, researchers and through donations. But the mission of the foundation is not limited to simple photography collecting role, it aims to approach those photos with critical thinking that connect them to their historical and societal context.
“Understand the photographic object”
As the Head of Collections and Co-Director at the Arab Image Foundation, Clémence Cottard Hachem says: “Our approach to digitization respects our desire to understand the photographic object for its physical and material uniqueness and not to render an aesthetic interpretation”.
For two decades, the foundation has kept on working at the development of photography good practices in the Middle East, by training people and raising awareness in the necessity of preserving photographs. With the support of the Delaware University, the Metropolitan Museum of New York and the Getty Conservation Institute, it participates in the Middle East Photograph Preservation Initiative, which organizes a series of courses and workshops to train personnel responsible for the care of photographic collections in the region.