Alutiiq Museum wants to convert old family photos to digital, will visit villages to document Alutiiq life and culture


Most of us have them. Dusty old boxes, totes, hard-drives, shoeboxes of photos, many containing people we can’t even identify. Yet, there seems to be an urge to hang on to the past, to that connection to family and old friends, even if we don’t know who they are.

KMXT’s Maggie Wall has this report on an effort by the Alutiiq Museum, to encourage people to digitize old photos, and maybe even donate a copy to the museum.

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The Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak this summer will be archiving photos from personal collections of area residents and others who have pictures of Alutiiq life and people.


“BIA provided funding to the Sun’aq Tribe who then contracted with the Alutiiq Museum. And the project is to help people preserve their photos. That’s, that’s the whole point of the project is to preserve the photos and sort of save this aspect of Alutiiq life.


That is the museum’s Amanda Lancaster. She is the collection and facilities manager which means she takes care of all the artifacts, including photos.


“And so we’re going to go out to five of the villages and then here in Kodiak as well. We’ll have people bring in their photos, we’ll scan them and then provide them the originals back as well as a digital copy. And then, if they if they would allow us to, save a copy at the Alutiiq Museum. Sort of create a digital archive of their photos. And so that would give the museum access to more photos, which are very popular with exhibits and publications. And it also gives them a digital copy. You know photos are very fragile.”


Anyone who’s gone through a box of old photos realizes how fragile they can be. Dust, bugs, moisture causing them to mold or stick together. Lancaster says digitizing the photos, slides or whatever form the photos are in, will help to preserve them and make them easier to store, share and convert to sizes and shapes useful to museum exhibits.


Old Harbor girls. Photo courtesy of Alutiiq Museum which has a grant to digitize and archive old photos showing Alutiiq culture and people.


Lancaster and Dehrich Chya were our guest on last week’s Talk of the Rock program where they explained the photo collection effort.


Lancaster: ”I mean, photos are just paper essentially. So you know, they’re pretty fragile. And so we feel like this is providing a service to people to save their photographs, and get digital copies which are easy to share. You know, they can share it with their family and in the Lower 48.”


Wall: “For periods in my life, I didn’t take very many pictures and I think older people even older than me, probably took even fewer pictures, because it was kind of a big deal taking a photo. And then now there’s so many photos.


“So are you looking mostly to get older photos? Or what do you do with, say, somebody who’s in their 30s who has 17,000 photos on their cell phone? Are you looking to grab some of those? Is there some sort of a plan going here? And Dehrich’s gonna answer this.”



Chya: “Sure. We’re, you know, not picky about where the photos are from. But the focus of the project is from photos, essentially from after the tidal wave, as far as I know, because that’s a sort of a gap in the in the Alutiiq Museum’s photo collections. We don’t have a lot of photos from the 1960s and 70s and 80s. And even more recently.


“You know, when I think about like, why people take photographs, it’s to preserve something, a moment that happened. And Alutiiq people live in these rural communities where we want to be able to capture moments, whether they’re happening now, within the last 10 years, or within the last 30 or 40 years. The Alutiiq Museum is all about preserving culture and heritage. And one way that we can do that is through photographs. And so we want to make sure to collect photos from all time periods.”


Wall: “Okay, so I’ll ask you since you brought it up, why are there not very many photos from the 6070s? And 80s?


Lancaster: “It’s a really good question. I’m not sure the answer. I think they’re out there. I think we just don’t have them at the Alutiiq Museum.” 


Wall: “I see. And so are you going to go like door to door or?”


Chya: “Yeah, we’re going to do it in a couple different ways. So my job, when we visit our rural communities on the island, is to go out with one of these project assistants and act as essentially like a community relations person. “So me and one of our photographers at the museum will go around and, you know, both ask people if they’re willing to donate photos, or just have their photos scanned. And also be taking photos of the community as you know, life is happening, to preserve that. Again, photos preserve a way of life a way of living, and we want to make sure to capture that.”


Anyone who has photos depicting the Alutiiq way of life is asked to contact the museum to discuss photo sharing.

And for those intimidated or embarrassed by their hoard of unsorted photos, Lancaster says not to worry. The people working on the project will happily get with you to sort and decide which photos they would like to preserve.

For KMXT News, I’m Maggie Wall.


Note: Edited to correct the spelling of Dehrich Chya’s first name in a quote.

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