Work on Zofia Chomętowska’s archive began in 2008 when ten plastic negative boxes were brought in from Argentina. Inventorying and digitising the negatives proved a formidable challenge; having been stored for many years in small, tight plastic boxes, they were parched and twisted. Moreover, they had been cut into strips of one, two or three frames.
Following intense consultations with conservation and digitisation specialists, the archiving method was determined; in preparation for digitisation, individual frames were housed in anti-Newton ring jackets, preventing them from bending. Having been given a catalogue number, they were rehoused in Secol melinex sleeves.
In mid-2010 an APF team went to Buenos Aires, where Zofia Chomętowska’s family archive was stored.
As a result of the trip, the overall size of the archive was estimated and a large part of it brought to Poland, including all the negatives (stored in a custom-made wooden box), some of the preserved positives, and albums of press clippings which Chomętowska had been collecting since the early 1930s.
Zofia Chomętowska’s archive consists of 120 boxes of approximately 50 frames each, totalling an estimated 6,000 negatives from the years 1929-1960. A large majority, except those from the 1950s and 1950s, are nitrocellulose negatives. Following consultations with Norwegian specialists, we decided to change the storage system and now each frame is stored separately, in a handmade acid-free paper sleeve which allows for maximum airflow. The sleeves are kept in an attested cardboard box.
Work on the negatives was painstaking and required utmost precision. Two- or three-frame strips of negative were cut into single frames and carefully housed in sleeves handmade for the purpose. Extreme precision was required in assigning catalogue numbers. Prepared for digitisation and scanned, all the negatives were then made available in the online database.
The archive included numerous invaluable negatives, both from the photographer’s early period of work (1920s/1930s eastern Poland and European trips), as well as from the postwar years, allowing the researchers to discover the ‘late’ Chomętowska and her Argentine years.
One of the most interesting materials in the Buenos Aires archive were seven squared notebooks with pasted-in contact prints of photographs of Warsaw, both from the prewar period as well as post-1945 images of the ruined city and its subsequent reconstruction, everything accompanied by the author’s commentary. Each notebook contained approximately 300 images. The whole material was scanned: each page and each photograph separately. Following the digitisation, the notebooks were sent back to Buenos Aires.
The material served as basis for the publication The Chroniclers. Zofia Chomętowska and Maria Chrząszczowa, ed. Karolina Ziębińska-Lewandowska. Work is currently under way on digitising one selected notebook for online publication.
An important part of the archive is a collection of over 1,300 prints, mostly of the photographs made as a commission for the prewar Ministry of Transport’s Department of Tourism. The images are from all over Poland, with a predominance of the southern and eastern regions. Housed originally in paper envelopes, the prints have been preserved in a moderate condition. Most were heavily bent, some bearing glue stains. They were conserved, scanned, and rehoused in melinex archival jackets and then in boxes.
The whole material was identified, annotated and made available in the APF online database. Work is currently under way on a publication presenting the material.