The Buddhist archive of photography, Luang Prabang, Laos, is most certainly the largest online photobase documenting the recent history of Buddhism in Laos.
The digitisation of the original photographs found in Luang Prabang was supported by the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme. Coming from more than 20 distinct monastery collections, this unique view from inside documents 120 years of monastic life and ritual, pilgrimage, monks’ portraits, history and social life. Important historic and political events of an agitated century in Laos at the same time appear as in a mirror: French colonialism, the Royal court, civil war, the Indochina and Vietnam wars, revolution and socialist rule. Quantity and quality of the material are as surprising as is the fact that it was produced in a city as isolated as Luang Prabang. It seems that there has been a particular inclination towards photography, which had been introduced very early by the French, was practised by the Royal court where young princes would learn about it, and take it with them when they were ordained as monks and became abbots of the various monasteries (there are 64 in town).
Work started in 2007 with Pilot Project EAP086, followed by Major Research Project EAP177 – since then 33,933 photographs have been discovered in 21 monasteries of Luang Prabang and have been digitised, identified and safely stored. Most of the original photographs (prints and negatives) are now stored in specially designed wooden archive cabinets at the Sala Thammiviharn, Vat Khili, Luang Prabang – an historic monastic building in one of the monasteries, now entirely used by the Archive. Some minor collections have been restituted to their respective owners.
Together with the 15,000 photographs treated in Major Research Project EAP177, the additional 18,933 photographs of this second project constitute the largest collection of historic photographs in Laos, and certainly the one that has been most thoroughly researched.
Digital copies of the material have been deposited at The National Library of Laos, Preservation of Lao Manuscripts Project, Vientiane Capital, Lao P.D.R. and the British Library, London, United Kingdom.