Photograph Conservation Tour

Conservation recently went on tour in Scotland, with four workshops being held throughout the Country focussing on the conservation and preservation of photographs. Find out what happened in this week’s blog… 

From 24 June to 2 July, a series of workshops on the conservation of photographs were hosted at Fort William, Brora, Aberdeen and St Andrews. The workshops were generously funded by Museum Galleries Scotland in partnership with Icon Scotland, University of St Andrews and the Scottish Society for the History of Photography. The workshops were aimed at people working with small to medium sized photograph collections.

Group identifying photographs

Group identifying photographs

The workshops proved to be very popular, with approximately 50 participants, representing 37 heritage institutions in Scotland attending in total. The sessions began with a brief introduction to the birth of photography, by Rachel Nordstrom, Photographic Preservation Officer at St Andrews University. Rachel began by describing the first photographic processes (daguerreotype and calotype) and highlighted the Scottish connection to the development of photography. Interestingly, a patent was applied to the calotype in England, but not Scotland. So early use of the calotype flourished in Scotland leading to fantastic collections that documented life in Scotland at that time.

Next Rachel discussed the care of photographic collections. First she described the agents of deterioration that are applicable to all collections, such as temperature, relative humidity and light and emphasised the need for good housekeeping. The benefits of cool versus frozen storage was also discussed. When handling photographs, nitrile gloves should always be worn. It can be uncomfortable wearing these gloves for a long period of time, so Rachel suggested cutting off the fingers of these gloves and just wearing the finger parts. These nitrile fingertips will keep your hands cool and your photographs protected!

Next, Edward Martin, gave a talk on the digitisation of photographic collections. Edward began by talking about the methods of digitisation such as flatbed scanning, film scanning and photographic copying and then discussed how to decide which option to use. For example, Daguerreotypes and Ambrotypes are highly reflective, so flatbed scanning is the best option. However, if the item is cased and can’t be fully opened, photographic copying may be more suitable. Edward then discussed what resolution to use when capturing your image. Rather than going for the highest possible resolution, he suggests that you should base your resolution on what the end usage is. Edward also emphasised the need to calibrate your monitors and regularly back-up your files. Another top tip was to regularly test the back-up files to ensure these had not been corrupted.

Collection of 19th Century Photographs

Collection of 19th Century Photographs

After lunch, we began the identification of 19th Century photographs. With approximately 1,500 known photographic processes, it would be impossible to describe them all, so Rachel focused on the 22 most common types. She first explained the methodology when starting to identify photographs and provided a handy flowchart which shows the identification steps. We then broke off into small groups to put this in to practise. Certain photographs were fairly easy to identify such as the daguerreotype, with its distinctive polished and shiny surface. Others were much more difficult, such as the Gelatin Printing Out Paper Print and the Collodian Printing Out Paper Print, which are virtually indistinguishable.

Overall, the day was highly successful and proved to be of interest to conservators and non-conservators alike. Due to the location of the workshops, heritage professionals from smaller institutions were able to attend and gain valuable insight in to the conservation and preservation of photographs. Based on the success of this event, the Icon Scotland Group plan to host a similar workshop series next year on a different topic.

Emily Hick, Project Conservator,Centre for Research Collections, Edinburgh University


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