Active Project

Buddhist Archive of Photography

Luang Prabang, Laos

A vernacular structure housing archival treasures

The Buddhist Archive of Photography is an initiative of the Buddhist Heritage Project, a community of monks, novices, and laypeople in Luang Prabang founded in 2006 to organize and survey activities in the fields of culture, conservation, education, and research, and to assist Buddhist life in the monasteries.

The large two-story building housing the Buddhist Archives was constructed on the grounds of Vat Souvannakhili, an important 300-year-old temple. Built nearly a century ago, the building was designed by a young monk, Pha Khamfan Silasangvaro, in the traditional Lao architectural style with Thai and French Colonial details.

The photo archives were created to provide proper archival management for more than 35,000 photographic images dating from the late 1800s or early 1900s, found in monasteries throughout Luang Prabang. Photographs in various forms have been cleaned, identified, digitized, catalogued, and professionally stored inside the archives. Today, the focus of the Buddhist Archive has expanded to include the treatment of large collections of historic traditional palm-leaf manuscripts, modern manuscripts documents, diaries, and personal papers. Each is being digitized, catalogued, and preserved in a manner adhering to international professional standards.

Emergency assistance post-disaster

In May 2019, a thunderstorm caused severe damage to the main roof of the structure housing the Buddhist Archives of Photography, exposing the precious materials to the elements.

Through the Crisis Immediate Response Fund, WMF offered support to the Buddhist Archives of Photography in June 2019 to perform emergency repairs to the roof that will protect the important collection. Work will include the replacement of damaged wooden rafters and purlins; the replacement of traditional clay tiles that were either broken or separated by the unusually heavy winds; finishing treatments; and other small repairs needed for the proper functioning of the roof.

WMF’s Crisis Immediate Response Fund provides emergency resources for early recovery actions at heritage sites to help build community resiliency, create economic opportunity, and strengthen social cohesion in the wake of disaster.

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