Initiated in 2015 by anthropologist Zoe Headley, the STARS Archive is a physical and digital collection, consisting of studio photography productions—images, glass plates, negatives, etc—produced between 1880 and 1980 in Tamilnadu. As the first archive of its kind, focussing on histories of Tamil studio photography, the archive presently comprises over 5,000 prints and a digitized collection of over 25,000 images from studios across the state. In addition, the collection also comprises material from other regions such as Sri-Lanks, Singapore and Indonesia, which would have previously been a part of the Madras Presidency. The physical archive is located in the French Institute of Pondicherry.
The project was funded as a part of the Endangered Archives Project by the British Library and was carried out in two phases. The first phase involved a survey of photographic studios across 14 towns across Tamil Nadu and began with the attempt to gather and create a formal archive of family portraiture.
The second phase involved the creation of the archive—collection and digitisation—consisting of negatives, glass plates and photographs. The collection documents some unique photographic processes and techniques within analog photography such as pink wash, hand painting, collage, etc. Thus, the archive seeks to protect and promote these forms of photographic production, a large part of which have been lost to natural degradation due to the tropical climate conditions as well as voluntary destruction by individual photography studios.
Since 2015, the STARS archive has initiated several outreach programmes including exhibitions in collaboration with the Serendipity Arts Festival (2018) in Goa, European Association for South Asian Studies Conference (2018) in Paris and the French Institute Pondicherry (2015).
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