Endangered archives blog

News about the projects saving vulnerable material from around the world

23 March 2017

Yangon Photo Festival 2017

This is a guest blog written by Lukas Birk, grant holder for EAP898.

Last autumn I was able to digitise 4000 negatives from Bellay Photo Studio in downtown Yangon for EAP898. The images were taken by photographer Har Si Yone, primarily in the late 1960s and 70s. Bellay Studio was founded only a few years after General Ne Win seized power in Myanmar and subsequently introduced ‘the Burmese way of socialism’. The studio was frequented by many ethnically Chinese members of Yangon’s society, a community that suffered greatly under Ne Win’s political doctrines, many had to leave the country by the late 70s.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Bellay Photo Studio-resizeDaw Aung San Suu Kyi speaking at the award ceremony of the Yangon Photo Festival

The exhibition Yangon Fashion 1979 curated for the Yangon Photo Festival is the first narrative from the many fascinating photographs taken at Bellay Studio. The exhibition sheds light onto a hidden part of Burmese society from the 1970s; private fashion photographs. Although wearing western clothes, miniskirts, or tight blouses was not forbidden, they were certainly not worn on Yangon’s streets, as the political atmosphere was much too conservative for such individual expression. The outfits were often inspired by Burmese movie stars, musicians, or illegally imported fashion magazines. Some tailors would also provide style catalogues for outfits only used during a photo shoot. The studio was an outlet for freedom of style and young people, who could afford it, would be seen there frequently. These photos were often exchanged with friends and dedications can be found on the back of many prints.

Lukas Birk_ Yangon Photo Festival_5 - resize


This year’s Yangon Photo Festival branched out from its usual location, the French Culture Institute, and was held in public. It is the first time that the government allowed an uncensored public display at Maha Bandula Park in downtown Yangon. Besides Yangon Fashion 1979, the festival showed revealing photo stories by young Burmese documentary photographers, as well as a series from the World Press Photo Foundation. The festival was opened by mayor U Maung Maung Soe and state counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi juried the festival’s photo competition. Thousands of people came to see the exhibition on the first weekend and the fashion photographs became the centre of interaction and selfie-taking. The exhibition inspired many conversations; after all, everybody has a sister, aunt, or mother that had had her photograph taken in similar fashion. It was the commonality of the images that brought people together. The son of the photographer, now the proprietor of Bellay Studio, Tun Tun Lay was very moved at the sight of his father’s work being shown in a historic light and enjoyed by a huge crowd in the park.

Lukas Birk_ Yangon Photo Festival_4 - resize Lukas Birk with Mayor U Maung Maung Soe and Yangon Photo Festival curator Christophe Loviny

22 March 2017

In Search of Zoroastrian Manuscripts in Iran

To celebrate Nowruz, this guest blog has been written by Milad Jahangurfar, who is the grant holder for EAP888, a current project that hopes to find the few surviving Avestan manuscripts which have used the Persian alphabet.


The Avesta, the holy book of the Zoroastrians, has been written in the Avestan alphabet, which was created for this purpose probably during the Sassanid era (224-651 CE). It is usually believed that before developing the alphabet, the priests were responsible for oral transmission of the collection. However, the history of the script and the forms of transmission of the scripture are still open to debate.

Image 6 resizedSett-i Pir/Mah Setti Pir temple, inside the Asadān castle. According to Zoroastrian legends and folklore, the castle dates back to the Sassanid era.

In the 19th century, and perhaps even earlier, a new trend in writing down the Avesta was developed. Zoroastrian priests started using the Persian alphabet. This change was a solution to the problem of reading Avestan and Pahlavi (middle Persian) texts which had become difficult for both priests and the laity.

Image 1 resizedThe three major Iranian provinces (Tehran, Yazd, Kerman) where the manuscripts are located.

Tehran, Yazd and Kerman are the three major provinces in Iran where the manuscripts are likely to be located. Once being the strongholds of Zoroastrianism in Iran, they are still where Zoroastrian communities are based. Yazd and Kerman are considered to be where the manuscripts originate. Even the volumes located in Tehran have been mostly composed and inscribed in these two provinces. The Zoroastrian families that moved to Tehran, particularly during the last few decades, brought with them such manuscripts, handed down through generations, brought to the capital. A few of them found their way to safekeeping such as the National Library, the Archives of Iran and the Library of Tehran University, whereas the rest of them are kept in poor conditions in private collections and sadly there is no specific record regarding their history of ownership or the exact date of composition and provenance.

Image 4 resizedPart of a prayer in the Khordeh Avesta.

The major part of the corpora consists of the Khordeh Avesta, which means ‘the Little Avesta’. The Khordeh Avesta is a collection of daily prayers to be performed during different ceremonies and rituals by both laypersons and by priests.

Image 3 resizedMilad Jahangirfar, sorting the files after digitising the manuscript.

Image 2 resized
Dr Farzaneh Goshtasb (a faculty member at the Institute for Humanities and Cultural Studies, Tehran) working on a manuscript.

Image 7 resized
Mr Rostam, the keeper of the Sett-i Pir temple in Yazd, and Dr Goshtasb.

EAP would like to wish all of our Iranian colleagues a very happy New Year.

08 March 2017

Celebrating International Women's Day Through Photography

To mark International Women's Day I have spent an enjoyable few hours delving through some of the EAP digitised photography collections finding some images from the various different countries around the world in which we fund projects. Having found so many amazing images in the archives I'm hoping to make a fairly regular 'photo blog' to share some of them and hopefully encourage others to explore further the many thousands of photographs (as well as other material) that we host on our website. Below each image is a direct link to its page on our website where you will find many similar photographs on a whole range of different subjects. If you discover any gems, please let us know and we'll feature them in the next 'photo blog'.

1. EAP016_3_1-iokm_033-001_LEAP016/3/1 - Digitising the photographic archive of southern Siberian indigenous peoples

2. EAP054_1_4-dvd70_145_LEAP054/1/4 - Archiving a Cameroonian photographic studio (Jacques Toussele photographs)

3. EAP264_1_8_6-EAP264PE_06_107_LEAP264/1/8/6 - Photographic negatives from Mongolia (Images of nomads and their lifestyles)

4. EAP644_1_58-TFDC_520_018_0334_01_LEAP644/1/58 - Photographs from Maison Bonfils (1867-1910s), Beirut, Lebanon

5. EAP755_1_1_38-Young_women_1049_LEAP755/1/1/38 - Annemarie Heinrich photograph collection, South America

6. EAP001_1_1-7_LEAP001/1/1 - Photographs from Esfahan taken by Minas Patkerhanian Machertich, Iran

7. EAP016_4_1-kkkm_126-012_LEAP016/4/1 - Digitising the photographic archive of southern Siberian indigenous peoples

8. EAP054_1_4-dvd68_132_LEAP054/1/4 - Archiving a Cameroonian photographic studio (Jacques Toussele photographs)

9. EAP103_1_1_186-aeimB-62_843-8_LEAP103/1/1/186 - Endangered ethnographic archive, Sofia, Bulgaria
10. EAP264_1_8_8-EAP264PE_08_009_LEAP264/1/8/8 - Digitisation of rare photographic negatives from Mongolia

11. EAP737_4_3_8-EAP_737_Coll4_E_FN_B30_013_LEAP737/4/3/8 - Preserving early Tamil studio photography

12. EAP755_1_1_86-Mendoza_1940s_II_1464_LEAP755/1/1/86 - Annemarie Heinrich photograph collection (Mendoza, 1940s), South America
13. EAP054_1_167-dvd89_066_LEAP054/1/167 - Archiving a Cameroonian photographic studio (Jacques Toussele photographs)
14. EAP165_2_21_image44EAP165/2/21 - Maya K'iche' women, Guatemala
15. EAP166_2_1_3-EAP166_MPP_1900-30_063_L
EAP166/2/1/3 - Leading Rana family members, Nepal

16. EAP755_1_1_29-Horses_807_LEAP755/1/1/29 - Annemarie Heinrich photograph collection, South America

6a00d8341c464853ef01b8d2293fe4970c-800wiEAP347 - Vanishing voices from the Uralic world (Sound recordings available to listen to on BL Sounds)

 Written by Robert Miles, EAP Cataloguer