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Using Archival Photos in documentary films

In making Journeys – the documentary film about El Shaddai Trust, a charity working with children in need in India, I had to rely on archival photographs for the sequences dealing with the organisation’s beginnings. This is inevitable when telling the history of an organisation. I was presented with a huge number of images in JPG format. The question in my mind was how do I incorporate it into the film?

Using Archive Photos in Documentary Film

Since the story is mainly about people in the present, I knew there would just be small portions of the film where the archival photos would have to be used. Mainly sequences that talk about the early years.

Wading through the multitude of images, I selected images that particularly struck me. I knew from the beginning I would not simply import the digital images into the timeline and apply some digital panning/zooming.

Archival images in documentaryI printed my selection of images in 5 x 7 size on matte paper. I then enlisted the support of my eager 6 year old son 🙂 and strung a series of crisscrossing threads in my studio. I then proceeded to suspended select images from the strings. In a sense, the crisscrossing strings represent the crisscrossing lives I was trying to depict in the documentary.

I then proceeded to film each image, and some wider shots even as they gently swayed in the light breeze from the air-con vent.

I imported the video clips into Adobe Premiere Pro and used the appropriate clips in the sequences where archival stuff was required. In doing so I eliminated the need to import still images into the project entirely.

Can’t say this is my idea, cause I had seen it several years ago on the Stillmotion blog. I think this is a more creative way of moving the story forward.

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