Corbis Exhibits Sygma's Work, Pushes Preservation Initiative

Posted on 10/19/2007 by Julia Dudnik Stern | Printable Version | Comments (0)



This week, Corbis hosted a one-night invitation-only exhibition of select works from the renowned collection of photojournalism agency Sygma, which has been owned by Corbis since 1999.

The London event displayed iconic archival images, including intimate portraits of Alfred Hitchcock, Bob Dylan and Nelson Mandela, war images from Chechnya, Rwanda and the Persian Gulf and September 11 photographs of the World Trade Center.

Though two Sygma photographers, Richard Smith and Orde Eliasson, attended the exhibit, Corbis' relationship with the agency's photographers has been marked by controversy. Many Sygma shooters quit within the first year of Corbis management; others were let go. Differences between corporate cultures and employment laws of Sygma's native France and the U.S. resulted in employee strikes, disputes of copyright ownership and lawsuits.

Since 2004, Corbis has devoted significant resources to preserving the historic image collection. The Sygma Preservation Initiative will move 50 million slides, negatives, prints and contact sheets to a new, climate-controlled, fire-safe and secure home near Paris. Corbis is working with an archiving and document management specialist Locarchives on building the new facility. The new home will protect the collection and make it more accessible to the public for in-person visits.

Work to reorganize the collection, including digitizing images and reclassifying them by photographer rather than by theme, has been ongoing since 2005. More than 55,000 pictures have been digitized, bringing the size of the online Sygma offering to 800,000 images. Corbis is also working to negotiate agreements with more than 10,000 photographers who have contributed to the collection and still own the images. This process means that image owners can participate in the archiving and commercial development of their works.

Regrettably, some of the Sygma archive has already been lost. In 2005, Corbis settled with Sygma photographer Arthur Grace, whose lawsuit alleged that thousands of his images were lost or damaged. At the time, Corbis executives admitted to poor inventory practices and chose to settle the matter. The company's multimillion dollar initiative will ensure that the collection is preserved for posterity.


Copyright © 2007 Julia Dudnik Stern. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-251-0720, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

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