Interview with Stéphanie Salmon, director of historical collections responsable for exhibitions and Fabrizio Faggiano, programming manager
We were at the Fondation Jérôme Seydoux – Pathé for discovering the new building designed by Renzo Piano to house and share with the audience the great historical heritage of Pathé, a brand intrinsically linked to the evolution of cinema on the other side of the Alps and even more. And the least we can say is that the building is worth to be explored, as much as the content. Because the current headquarters of the foundation, in the south- east of Paris, near Place d’Italie and not far from the Manufacture des Gobelins, is a happy blend of ancient and modern. 200 square meters built on the surface of an old Parisian theater, behind the façade sculpted by Auguste Rodin around 1869. An original space from which the famous Italian architect has designed a wood and steel structure of five floors high and covered with 5000 panels rising up within a garden. A kind of sinuous carapace ending as a verrière in the last two floors and is divided into six different thematic areas: the entrance building with the ticketing; the seat itself with the screening room Charles Pathé (in which the masterpieces of silent film return to life), the great hall of the ground floor, space for temporary exhibitions, the gallery of cinematographic devices, reserves (holding approximately 120 cubic meters stock archives) and area offices, with the open space for researchers.
We met Stéphanie Salmon, director of historical collections responsible for exhibitions and Fabrizio Faggiano, the head of programming. They were the ones telling us about history and curiosities of the place, focusing on the characteristics of conservation and by opening exceptionally the doors to the massive archive made from the collections the Fondation Jérôme Seydoux – Pathé. Important findings that in some cases date back to 1896, including title blocks , iconographic material and advertising, drawings, photographs, equipment, film accessories and objects, as well as a library of books and periodicals in the field and a rich set of administrative and legal documents related to the Pathé and more than 80 companies affiliated to the group since its creation by Emile Charles Pathé and founders of Pathé frères. An ever growing treasure with new beads.
Can you tell us about the foundation and its team ?
SS: The foundation is managed by a simple hierarchy and animated by a team from the opening restricted, since its beginning a set of all employees at the screening, pianists, etc, has been added.
Which are your main activities and who are your addressees?
SS: We are frequently pushed by professionals from different universes, mainly from communication and historical research, and the film of course. We also receive members of associations, and many people interested in genealogy appealing to the foundation to find information about their ancestors, then students, journalists and fans. A deep various audience.
FF : The Foundation exists since 2006, the services balance sheet since 2001. When we were still hosted by Pathé, we received especially researchers, but since the opening of the new headquarters, we ensure proper programming open the public, with temporary exhibitions, workshops for children and exciting projections accompanied by pianists performing live performance directly dedicated. We organize tours and bring stakeholders to the discovery of an important collection of 200 units (most of them fully functionning) permanently installed in the gallery dedicated.
Which kind of relationships do you keep with other institutions?
SS: We keep relationships with frequent museums, curators and universities, professors and researchers.
What’s your position about the great challenge of creating digital repositories which will make the archives of tomorrow?
SS: The first interest of the digitisation of these objects that they fear the temperature changes (especially for paper materials) is primarily conservative, the will for preservation which is followed by that of the outstanding share content. We scan several types of documents such as records, and posters and photographs (especially to be able to facilitate consultation, also because there is a specific request for the subject from publishers). For photographs, the set is so wide that you chose to work according to the thematic axes and on demand. Of course, all that is acquired is automatically digitalised, while the photo albums are displayed directly to the Foundation. This is an ongoing process, imagine to finish everything in a short time would be like believing in a Demiurge. As it stands, we do not intend to transfer the entirety of the dossier on digital media, it would be an extremely onerous task, which now proceeds mainly according to specific needs, up to date with the times and with technological developments.
How is factually the foundation heritage collections digitised?
SS: The first scans (already made in 2003/2004) concerning the collection of Pathé’s accounting records, a really complete set with pieces dated from the late nineteenth century, frequently requested by researchers, and we have already begun to digitalise by time, especially for fragility of supports. Most of these documents can be consulted on the spot through .pdf format documents with table of contents, some are also available online with comment. That is the case of the Carnet http://fondation-jeromeseydoux-pathe.com/repertoire-mayer Mayer, who was the subject of a scientific work and an important reference for the film-showcases using it for restoration. At this time, we work on a series of notebooks engineering with many references to Pathé, but that does not belong to us, and to let them searchable here in Paris, we have fully supported digitisation. We also make inventories of posters and, depending on the format , proceed to direct dechristianisation or through photographs in the studio. We work with restorers and trusted professionals and we are lucky not to be bound to the market needs, a feature that allows us to proceed to purely qualitative criteria, together with the fact that we are a small team with a very simple hierarchy.
Do you share documents and events through new technologies ? Which ones and how?
SS : Data are collected in more internal databases (shared among those who elaborate them). These data are accessible to researchers on site and in some cases also to the public online, in a triple system that keeps asking us questions on technical and aesthetic issues, to adapt the inevitable ageing of the media. We also have many pictures, thoroughly consulted by editors of exposure, so that we carry out more extensive research upon their request. The spirit of the Foundation is already upstream to guide who is asking for information, so that when they come here, they can directly access the files we have previously prepared. In some cases, as for periodicals, we address to the consultation of the originals via micro-fiche, for a deeper use.
What are your future plans?
FF : We are aware of the huge future potential of scanned documents and work daily to improve them. We also know the issue of preservation of these materials will arise in an ever more pressing way in a short-term tine, with particular reference to the handling of metadata and cataloguing for which we intend to strengthen. Quite a challenge on which we are focusing into depth and figuring out about fascinating future developments.
Credits Sara Rania
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