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Slides, Dust and Memories

Updated: Mar 21

Last Friday, on December 29th, I returned to Nil's studio. We had met two days before at her home to have a look at the state of the digital archives stored on her computer and hard drives - I'll come back to this point in my next post. However, the purpose of this second meeting was to conduct a comprehensive inventory of the physical archives.

Images - Nil going through her boxes of slides, December 29th 2023

Our exploration began with an inspection of a bottom drawer, filled with small plastic boxes of old color slides, most dating back from the 80’s and 90’s. The ink on the labels was nearly faded, making them challenging to read – a re-labeling work is planned. Naturally, I inquired with Nil: "Has any digitization work been undertaken on the slides?" Her response was negative, establishing their digitization as another priority for the project. These preserved slides are primarily ‘’ethnographic’’ photographs used in her works, and shots from her exhibitions.

Image 2- Nil and her carousel of old slides, December 29th 2023

We also delved into two dusty Kodak carousels. It was emotional to see Nil

rediscovering slides she had completely forgotten, or simply didn’t know she had.

Over 30 years had passed since she last handled these archives, confirming the

urgency of their digital preservation. Both carousels, around thirty slides each,

were added to the to-digitize list.We also delved into two dusty Kodak carousels. It was emotional to see Nil rediscovering slides she had completely forgotten, or simply didn’t know she had.

Subsequently, we examined 1 of Nil's 3 folders (so far?) of negatives. Some

sections were well-organized, with neatly arranged negatives and contact sheets,

while others were in a state of disarray. Throughout her career, Nil single-handedly

managed the archiving task of her work, without any assistance. As she confessed

to me with a laugh: « Au début c’était organisé, mais plus je vieillis, plus c’est

pêle-mêle! » (At first, it was organized, but the older I get, the more it becomes a


Image 3 – Nil sorting and showing me archives from her small cabinet

Finally, we dedicated time to sorting through documents located in a small

cabinet in her studio. Her folders included various documents, (orphaned) contact

sheets, negatives, hand-written speeches, letters and brochures. Collaboratively,

we established an organizational system, re-labeling pouches and folders. This

initial examination of her physical archives also prompted the development of a

list of organizational materials, encompassing folders for negatives and pouches

for preservation.

Image 4 - Re-labeling of Nil's folders. We reorganized 1 of her 3

archives boxes.

I could have spent the whole day exploring her archives. However, Nil has limited

time and energy due to her age, but mostly the demands of the Biennale. The

time flew by swiftly, and I believe 2 or 3 more "inventory" sessions are still

necessary. As she insists, her presence during this process is essential, as only she

(remembering that she has never had an assistant) knows the location of her

archives, and, above all, their origin and context.

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