Photo Archive's timely rescue in Cameroon

In June 2014, the Prince Claus Fund’s Cultural Emergency Response (CER) programme joined forces with African Photography Initiatives (APHI, Switzerland) to prevent the destruction of a significant photo archive in the Cameroonian capital of Douala.

The results of decades of photography sessions were stored in the Goethe family studio in Douala. In early 2014, however, strong winds blew the roof of the building off and left the photos vulnerable to the elements. With the West African monsoon season approaching in June, this jointly-supported rescue was just in time to prevent the destruction of the entire collection. 

George & Cyril Goethe’s Legacy

Born in Sierra Leone, George Goethe was named for the German author whom his father regarded so highly. His work extended beyond photographs of the colonial authorities and regional kings of Cameroon and also touched upon the middle classes of Douala, representing a seldom seen part of society. The collection therefore provides a visual memory of the life cycle of all social and ethnic layers: records of new-borns, anniversaries, graduations, marriages and deaths, which are of great value in tracking the historical, social and artistic development of Cameroonian culture.

George Goethe’s son Cyril Goethe followed in his father’s footsteps and became official photographer to one of the most important companies of the city, maintaining the studio for another 30 years.However, at the beginning of the 20th century, Cyril’s health declined and the studio was forced to close its doors to the public. What was left was an enormous archive of public life in Douala, which was suddenly exposed to the elements when unusually high winds tore the roof off at the beginning of 2014.

Quick Action

Together with APHI, CER supported the rescue of approximately 50,000 negatives and 1,300 prints from the monsoon rains, while the roof was replaced on the studio. Material that had been damaged beyond repair was disposed of and what could be rescued was cleaned, with dust and metal clips removed from the photos. This material was then sorted and placed in new storage units purchased for this purpose. Furthermore, 6,000 of these negatives and prints were digitised and have been made available for future research by APHI.

What was saved from the collection is now safely stored in Cameron, with the possibility for future researchers and other parties to visit the site and benefit from the legacy of George Goethe. 

Photo Archive's timely rescue in Cameroon

"rescue of 50,000 negatives and 1,300 prints from monsoon rains"

CER provides rapid and effective emergency relief for cultural heritage damaged or destroyed by man-made or natural disasters. Launched in 2003 in reaction to the looting and demolition of artworks from the National Museum of Iraq, CER believes that rescuing cultural heritage provides hope and consolation to affected communities and thereby contributes to restoring human dignity, continuity and a sense of identity. Culture is a basic need and cultural emergency relief should therefore be an integral part of humanitarian aid.

Photo Archive's timely rescue in Cameroon

 
 
 
 

Photo Archive's timely rescue in Cameroon

In June 2014, the Prince Claus Fund’s Cultural Emergency Response (CER) programme joined forces with African Photography Initiatives (APHI, Switzerland) to prevent the destruction of a significant photo archive in the Cameroonian capital of Douala. The results of decades of photography sessions were stored in the Goethe family studio in Douala. In early 2014, however, strong winds blew the...