When Carmel photographer Steve Crouch died in 1984, his work was headed for the dump. A telephone call from Huntington Witherill alerted me as to what was happening and I was able to persuade his son to let me have the whole archive. I didn’t have a clue as to what I’d do with it. Three years later I was able to talk the University of California, Santa Cruz into placing it in their Special Collections. That was the start.
I found to my surprise that the majority of photographs from deceased photographers end up in the dump. Family and heirs frequently have no interest in what was a life’s work. Only a few high profile photographers have work that interests collectors, libraries, universities, museums, etc. Yet, all photographs have a potential value. Everything is not just fine art. Historical information can be gleaned from surprisingly obscure nooks. If a photographer has been diligent in recording their work, it has more appeal to the academic world.
As time passed, I helped other photographers organize their work and in some cases, find a repository for it. The phone started ringing. “Can you help me” was a common question. It got to the point where I couldn’t handle the load. I needed to get others involved. The outcome was FfPP. Foundation for Photographic Preservation. FfPP is comprised of a few hand picked reliable friends, people with a variety of expertise, people who cared and understood the importance of preserving photographs.
We’re not a large organization. We only handle what we have time for. We continually attempt to alert others to the importance of preserving work. It’s working. It’s unpredictable. No two cases are alike. Each body of work has to be dealt with individually, because we’re all different. Onetime beautiful prints are found wrapped in newsprint. Some are found stored in damp or humid places. Mold is common. And there are duplicates and duplicates and duplicates. Yet, what remains, and it is substantial, deserves to be preserved. FfPP can’t do it all. We do what we can. What we would like to do is raise the level of awareness in others and maybe per- suade them to establish a similar organization in their own area.
As a traveling workshop instructor, I have seen countless ‘sacks’ of family prints. One time in a small Nebraska town a woman brought in a sack full of family tintypes. Gorgeous little gems, now damaged through carelessness. But salvageable, and a key to her ancestors. Irreplaceable. So that is what FfPP is about.