michael naimark




Projet Patrimoine 2001, UNESCO, Paris

Take Three

Michael Naimark


Two weeks ago I met with Pascal Bonafoux, Director of Projet Patrimoine 2001, the ambitious UNESCO project to photo-document all 350-some designated "World Heritage Sites" by the year 2001. This was our second meeting, and my third with this project over the past two years (see trip reports). My general intention has been to encourage them to think about methods of field recording beyond simple photography, methods optimized for immersion, interactivity, and modelling. Otherwise I've have no specific intention beyond maintaining a relationship and seeing if anything naturally evolves.

Although the Projet Patrimoine office is in Agence Gamma, a large photo agency, Bonafoux's roots are in academia. He's Chairman of the Art Department at Université Paris 8, where he currently teaches histories of still-lifes and self-portraits, and is finishing a book on the painter André Derain. Both Jean-Louis Boissier ("Flora Petrinsularis") and his wife also teach in the same department, and it turns out we have several mutual friends. This meeting was over lunch and wine.

They have documented 45 sites so far. Working with Kodak and French Telecom they have made several PhotoCDs of their material. They are currently showing them at conferences and plan to make them commercially available in the near future.

Projet Patrimoine is mostly funded by La Caixa, a Barcelona-based bank foundation. Bonafoux mentioned that though they are well-funded now, the plan is for self-sufficiency sometime before 2001. He sees multimedia publication and network distribution as the eventual source of income.

Bonafoux says that his photographers are increasingly complaining about tourists and growth, siting the facts that the Lascaux Caves are now closed to the public and the newly refurbished Sistine Chapel is getting repolluted at an alarming rate. He then semi-seriously suggested immersive virtual travel in the future via armchair-based systems at places like La Villette (Paris' enormous science musem).

We then discussed interactivity. I said that it's popular in US multimedia and "VR" circles to carry on as if "everything" can be available to the end-user. He doesn't believe one can give the end-user unlimited choice, hence choice has to be made up-front by the producer. Making seemingly neutral, uniform, or objective choices is fine for science, but for art the producer's choice must be subjective (very French). What he wants from good art, he continued, is discovery: to see something in a new way. But rather than therefore rejecting interactivity, we both agreed that hybrid genres (of limited choice) need to be explored.

This guy's with UNESCO? "No," he replied, he has minimal dealings with them. The World Heritage Program itself just got a new director, an Italian. "Very passionate man," he says. "But it's UNESCO, and it's all politics."

Quel surpris.

I later heard (from a French government official who's the brother of a Parisian friend of mine) that the US, which is not part of UNESCO, is expected to change its status next year.

Bonafoux and I parted with a mutual interest in possible collaboration and a commitment to keep in touch. That neither of us had any specific proposal didn't appear to bother us.