The Inventorying of the Archive – an “Open Work”

Irina Calotă

The “Alexandru Tzigara-Samurcaş” Image Archive, which is in the custodianship of the Department of the History and Theory of Architecture and Heritage Conservation of the "Ion Mincu" University of Architecture and Urbanism, contains 2,383 glass photographic slides. These have been transposed in their entirety into digital format and inventoried in the form of tables. The inventory can be found in the CD included with this book.

In order to make available a user-friendly index, the images have been grouped into four main categories, according to the nature of their subject matter: Architecture and Settlement, Arts, Plans and Maps, Landscapes. The digital images have been arranged in tables according to meaningful criteria for each separate category.

Of the 2,182 images (resulting from the exclusion of 201 that are duplicates), 1,625 (or approximately 74%) have been classed under the category of Architecture and Settlement, and these make up the dominant subject matter of the archive. In this case, taking into account the large number of slides presented, in order to make searching easier, the criterion for arrangement has been geographic. The images are grouped in separate tables depending on country of origin, and arranged alphabetically by city. In the case of Romania, due to the large number of images, these have been grouped in tables according to county, in alphabetical order, and then by town or parish (or village) of origin.

More than ninety per cent of the images in the category Architecture and Settlement present subjects from Europe, of which approximately half are from Romania. The other European countries represented are Austria, Belgium, Britain, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Moldova, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and Ukraine. To these can be added, from outside Europe, Armenia, Canada, China, Egypt, India, Lebanon, Pakistan, Syria, Sri Lanka, and the United States of America (Image 1). Among these, there are a substantial number of images from Italy (252 slides), France (121) and Germany (111). At the other extreme, countries such as Croatia, Holland, Portugal, Russia and Ukraine are represented by only one slide each (Image 2). The number of images from outside Europe is small, with most coming from the United States (48) and India (25).

Whereas the images from abroad show overall views of familiar landmarks in various countries and cities, those from Romania achieve a much deeper level, presenting detailed aspects (some perhaps now vanished) of Romanian architecture and life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. On the one hand, we are dealing with presentations of the concrete situation of monuments at the moment they were photographed (these are often important from a scholarly point of view due to subsequent alteration and restoration), but also, on the other hand, with eyewitness documents of the period that reveal the author’s photographic vision (this second aspect is also valid for the images from outside Romania).

Like the non-uniform distribution of the slides depending on the countries they depict, the distribution of images from the counties of Romania is also heterogeneous. Most of the slides come from Argeş, with 117 photographs (15% of the total images from Romania), followed by Suceava (83), Bucharest (68), Constanţa (63), Jassy (62), Gorj (49), Vâlcea (48) and Dâmboviţa (41), with the remaining counties being represented by less than thirty slides in total (Image 3). It can be observed that the differences result either from the uneven number of architectural monuments represented, or from the evident interest on the part of the collection’s author in certain kinds of structure or ensemble. Thus, Bucharest is represented by 68 images, illustrating 21 different subjects, while of the total of 117 images from Argeş county, no fewer than 67 show the Episcopal Cathedral. In the case of Constanţa county, the proportion is even higher in favour of the dominant element: of the 63 images (presenting four different subjects), 56 are from Adamclisi, showing, in roughly equal numbers, the Triumphal Monument and the Tropaeum Trajani (Image 4).

The category Arts, comprising 482 slides, has been divided into categories by photographic subject as follows: Prehistoric Art, Romanian Folk Art, Sculpture, Painting, Engravings and Drawings and Miscellanea. Of these, the most numerous is Painting, comprising roughly 66% (323 slides) of the total images in the Arts category. The majority of the images in this sub-category (more than 90%) show Romanian paintings, including an impressive collection of photographs of works by painter Nicolae Grigorescu (209 images). Likewise, under this heading can also be found works by painters including Theodor Aman, Amedeo Preziosi and Carol Popp de Szathmáry, grouped in separate tables. The rest of the works are presented together, under two general headings: The Romanian School and European Painting, insofar as there are not sufficient works by any one author in order to create separate sub-headings.

The category Plans and Maps (54 slides) contains regional maps and town plans or urban segments comprising more than a mere vicinity or architectural object. The category Landscapes contains only 21 slides and presents both natural and man-made landscapes, with an emphasis on harbour images (more than half the total slides).

Apart from the above-mentioned headings, which refer to the name, description and location of the subjects captured by the archive’s images, the tables in the inventory also contain other useful information: type of image, dimensions (in pixels), numeric references to the overall inventory of the archive, material state of the slide at the moment of inventorying (with influences on the quality of the digital image), and a thumbnail image of the slide.

Almost all the slides that make up the archive are accompanied by a label identifying and/or describing the subject, some succinct, some more ample. This information has served as the starting point for verification or identification of the locations presented in the photographs. This verification has been undertaken, on the one hand, from the need for contemporary references for both the subjects presented and their location (due to the disappearance of some structures, changing place names, and, in the case of Romania, changing administrative and district boundary lines), and, on the other hand, in order to correct any eventual errors on the original labels. In the case of the images that show subjects from Romania these have also be checked against the official references in the List of Historic Monuments drawn up in 2004, where this has been possible. In order to provide accurate references for the images included under the heading Arts, specialist works of reference have been consulted. Inasmuch as there are plenty of cases in which the original titles have been changed, these have been given in the inventory tables, preserving the exact orthography and expression of the author for purposes of reference and as an element of authenticity.

The long period of time that has elapsed since the photographs were taken, as well as the lack of any information other than the often imprecise details inscribed on the slides, has prevented us from identifying all the images. This is why we have reckoned that the publication of the archive in the form and with the data currently available to us is a necessary first step. The publication of the entire collection, thus making it available to researchers and the wider public, will undoubtedly lead to rectification of any eventual errors of detail, to supplementation of the existing information, and to augmentation of the image of the early twentieth century that the inventorying of the archive now outlines for us. Hence the suggestion of an “open work”, which we hope to share with those curious enough to view the images in the collection.