Heritage and the Politics of Culture
The Leiden University Library holds extensive Asian photo collections, such as the KITLV photo collection. The provenance of this collection partly dates back to the 1890s. Photo material acquired through donations and bought at auctions or via dealers. The photo collections are made accessible through an internet database. The images are thus available worldwide. The focus in the database is on the image content.
The photo archive in the library is traditionally seen as material that holds the past and is a valuable source for both academics and students. The task of the library is two-fold: preserve its precious photo collections and make them available to any interested user. However, up till now, hardly any attention has been paid to the ethics which involve both collecting and the sharing of photos publicly online. No questions are asked when the provenance of an item is dubious or unclear, for example in the case of looted albums. In addition, the collections hold objects that are often utterly personal, or in some cases offensive (e.g. photos of (mutilated) corpses). The image content of these photographs is never considered when photos are made available online.
Albums contain photographic stories that were never intended to become institutionalised. In other words, when the photos move from the private to the public sphere , they act in a new context of display. This new context should consider ethical issues which involve provenance and availability on the worldwide web.