Claude Lord - Lord of Canada's Photo History

As the National Film Board of Canada’s Curator for the Photo Library Collection, Claude Lord’s job is to store, preserve and share the NFB’s photography collection. “Canadians discover their country and fellow Canadians through our films,” says Claude. I’m really proud of my work, because I’m helping to preserve the collective memory of Canadian society.”

Yet that’s not the path Claude had chosen as a young person. “In the early 80s, I took off for California with a pack on my back and a guitar in hand, in quest of my dream to become a musician. I’m a reformed rock and roller!” It was through the network of artists he met on that journey that Claude got interested in photography. That interest would serve him well, once he realized after a few years that he was not going to be a Hollywood rock star. So Claude decided to go back to school.

After returning to Quebec in 1992, he enrolled in a digital imaging program at Cégep Ahuntsic. That decision eventually led to a career at the NFB photo library. When he started as a technician in 1999, Claude was thrilled to be part of the organization. “It was fantastic! I was working in a highly stimulating environment.” The NFB’s mission is to create films to familiarize the world and other Canadians with Canada, which is very rewarding to Claude: “We make animated films, as well as documentaries. Just being around the people who create these films is amazing in itself.”

“The world of cinema takes us to places we’ve never been before, and the pictures teach us a lot,” says Claude. Historic events, social problems, day-to-day life and unusual places. “Pictures speak to us; they convey all sorts of information. They tell us stories. A picture is indeed worth a thousand words, as the saying goes.”

Claude and his team receive a great deal of material from the various NFB productions. “My job consists of gathering and storing the photographs in our collection and ensuring that they are available to Canadians.” Managing the collection is no small feat: the NFB collection holds an estimated 600,000 physical items and a few million digital units! “I work long and difficult hours, and the job never ends,” states Claude.

The pictures are on different physical media and saved in huge vaults, which are environmentally controlled and have limited access. Ironically, the explosion in digital photography has made the job more difficult. That’s because the number of items to manage has increased exponentially, with the ease of taking pictures these days. Claude believes the government could do more to preserve our collective memory. “If the resources were available, we could invest further—because a lot of our photographic heritage is gathering dust on shelves.”

All these photographs can be displayed at museums around the world, and at various exhibitions and events, so that people can enjoy them.

Claude also gets requests from publishers of books and magazines and filmmakers and TV producers looking for photographs of a specific event or person. Some people are also looking for photos of their family members.

Claude feels that it’s very important to Canadians that these archives be preserved. “It’s a tremendous cultural heritage. Over the decades, we can see how society has changed. We can see how the film industry has changed. There’s so much information and knowledge in these pictures.” During anniversaries, like the 150th anniversary of Confederation and the 50th anniversary of Expo 67, these materials help us remember. “It’s important to know where we came from so that we know where we’re headed,” explains Claude.

Claude takes great pride in his work in the film industry and in being able to promote it across Canada and throughout the world. “When I watch an NFB film, I say to myself, wow! I work where they make these films! That’s the way most of us feel here. When we see what the filmmakers do, we’re extremely proud of being a part of it.”