The International Tangier Glass Negatives Collection

The images in the collection International Tangier: Early 20th century Morocco and the Western Mediterranean depict sites in Tangier and throughout the western Mediterranean roughly between the waning years of the 19th century and 1930s. They are scanned from a large collection of approximately 2,000 medium-format glass plate negatives in the collection of the Tangier American Institute for Moroccan Studies (TALIM) believed to be photographs by Paul Servant, a longtime resident of Tangier. Though some of his photographs did appear in print during Servant’s lifetime, he is not believed to have been a professional photographer. The negatives were donated to TALIM by art collector, philanthropist, and sometimes resident of Tangier, Donald Angus (1908-2001). He had acquired them sometime in the 1970s in a local market. 

The images in the collection provide important and rare visual documentation of life in the western Mediterranean during the early 20th century, a period when nearly every aspect of society was in flux. The city of Tangier is particularly well documented. In addition to portraits and photographs documenting the daily life of he city’s inhabitants, images capture the construction of the port, railway, and some of the city’s best-known buildings. Other photographs were taken in locations throughout Morocco. Still others were taken during travels in Algeria, France, and Spain. 

Images such as these are invaluable to researchers interested in the history, yet the vast majority of them have never been published or exhibited. This collection is made available in order to make the entire collection available to researchers, while also facilitating preservation of the original negatives. Glass plate negatives are fragile and prone to deterioration. They must be handled with great care, and as infrequently as possible. Best practices protocols mandate the creation of surrogate images, and cold storage of the originals. In order to meet the demands of both preservation and access, the Aga Khan Documentation Center at MIT (AKDC@MIT) is working with TALIM, the Program in Middle Eastern Studies at Wellesley College, and the Center for Work and Service of Wellesley College to digitize and catalog the negatives for consultation on Archnet. Currently all the negatives are publicly available, cataloged according to the information provided. We are now working to expand and, in some cases, correct of revise the available information.  

It should be noted that this collection builds on the progress of previous endeavors. While no documentation of the dates, subjects, or locations of the photographs came with the negatives, in the mid-1970s a group of self-described Tangier "old-timers" compiled a set of hand-written notes attempting to identify the images taken in and around Tangier. While helpful, they describe only a small portion of the negatives, and can be quite difficult to read. For decades the negatives were stored in wooden boxes at the Legation, during which time many were badly damaged by environmental factors. In the summers of 1989, 1990, 2004, and 2005, Beatrice St. Laurent, Professor of Islamic Art at Bridgewater State University, cleaned, properly repackaged, and made preliminary identifications of the negatives. She also began the process of digitizing the images. Her efforts were supported by grants from Bridgewater State University, the American Institute for Maghrib Studies, and Wellesley College. Susan G. Miller, Professor of History at the University of California, Davis, also provided preliminary identifications for the entire collection. 

In the summer of 2014 AKDC @ MIT launched an ongoing collaboration with the Wellesley College Center for Work and Service and Program for Middle Eastern Studies to continue the digitization of the negatives. Over the course of three summers between 2014-2016, Talin Ghazarian, Aathira Chennat, Tessa Kellner, Jülide Iye, and Amina Ziad completed the digitization of the negatives, and began cataloging them for Archnet. The first images from the collection were made available on Archnet in November 2014. Images were made available in installments. By the end of summer 2016, all images were available on Archnet, catalogued according to the information available. 

Negatives scanned between 1998 and 2005 are represented by images that have been restored and tinted. Negatives scanned since 2014 were cleaned again before scanning,1 but are presented here representing the actual condition of the negative. No cropping or other alteration has taken place. From October 24 to December 15, 2016, an exhibition sponsored by the Aga Khan Documentation Center at MIT and the Program in Middle Eastern Studies of Wellesley College will present a digitally restored selection of images scanned since 2014, juxtaposed against more recent images of the same sites. A virtual version of the exhibition will be included on Archnet.

Currently the organization of the virtual collection reflects the organization of the actual slide collection as it is stored. Images are presented in sub-collections corresponding to the numbered boxes containing the slides. Slides are then numbered consecutively inside each box, corresponding to the numbers on each slide. Some boxes are devoted exclusively or predominantly to a theme or location. Where this is the case, it has been indicated in the list below. The contents of other boxes are more much more varied. In those cases, it is also indicated. 

We are in the process of conducting a detailed review of the metadata on all images, synthesizing all available information and conducting further research. The organization of the collection is likely to change once that is complete. Classifying the collection by theme, date, location, or subject is likely to facilitate its use more than the organization by box number. User feedback is very helpful in this process.2 We welcome your comments corrections, and clarifications on the metadata provided, as well as suggestions for how the collection might be best organized to facilitate its use. 

Contents of the collection by box:

• Box 1- 118 images of Tangier and environs

• Box 2- 74 images of Tangier and environs

• Box 3- 85 images mostly of Tangier and environs, isolated photographs of Algeria and Europe

• Box 4- 88 images of Fès, Essaouira, Rabat, Salè, Marrakech, and other places in Morocco

• Box 5- 84 images, many of Tangier and environs, including numerous photographs taken during an auto rally. Additional photographs of Oujda, Fés, Tlemcen, and locations not yet identified

• Box 6- 82 images of landscapes and military activity, including three portraits believed to be the photographer in uniform. Most locations undetermined

• Box 7- 73 photographs in the environs of Tangier, including Cap Spartel and the Old Mountain 

• Box 8- 116 images. Approximately two dozen images of planes, airplane hangers, and aerial views. Over a dozen images of train stations and railways under construction (including the Asilah Station), and the first trains to arrive in Tangier. Additional images of churches, Villa Harris, the Great Mosque, and the Marshan water tower under construction

• Box 9- 70 images of locations in and around Tangier, including some photographs of athletic events, buildings under construction, and photographs taken on ships. Some unidentified locations

• Box 10- 132 images of Tangier and environs, including photographs of sites in Algeria, Europe, and other locations not yet identified. Also includes portraits, landscapes, and photographs of tourism posters

• Box 11 - 126 images mostly of Tangier and environs, including aerial views, photographs of ships, and social/sporting events. This box also includes a handful of photographs taken in other locations in Morocco and Algeria, as well as some unidentified locations

• Box 12 - 107 images including portraits and photographs taken in Algeria, France, and onboard ships. Many undetermined locations. 

• Box 13 - 132 images, mostly of the port beach, and waterfront. Some images on or around Boulevard Pasteur and other locations outside the medina walls

• Box 14 - 86 images of ships, the waterfront, and port

• Box 15- 103 images of Chefchaouen, Gibraltar, Tetouan, Spain, and other locations, some undetermined 

• Box 16- 83 images of various sites in Algeria, Morocco, and other undetermined locations. Many damaged images

• Box 17- 91 images of various sites in Algeria, Morocco, Spain, etc. Many images of construction in Tangier

• Box 18- 131 images of various sites, mostly in France and the Alps. Many undetermined locations

• Box 19- 121 images, most of ships at sea

--Michael A Toler, Archnet Content Manager (October 10, 2016)


1. Thanks to Ann Marie Willer and the Institute Archives & Special Collections for consultation and assistance in procuring the materials. 

2. I am particularly grateful to Manuel Laborda for his systematic review of the image cataloging.