Student Placement at Edinburgh University

Joey Shuker, conservation placement student from Camberwell College of Art describes her experience of working at the Centre for Research Collections (CRC) at Edinburgh University in this week’s blog post…

I have been very fortunate to have spent the last four weeks in the CRC as part of my summer placement for my masters degree in Conservation of Paper. I have just finished the first year of a two-year masters at Camberwell College of Art, part of the University of Arts London.

I have been working mostly in the studio with Emily Hick, but my placement here has also taken me to the National Library of Scotland conservation studios, The Scottish Conservation Studio (private studio) and I have spent days working at the Annexe (the CRC’s of site facility) with Project Conservator, Katharine Richardson.

One of the projects I spent most time working on was conserving a collection of photographs of Leith in the 1920s.The condition in which the photographs arrived in meant they where not able to be digitised. The prints were mounted on thick card that had distorted due to past environmental and storage conditions. The distortion of the card mount was pulling and creasing the photograph. Being so distorted meant that any pressure to put them under glass during the digitisation process would have caused more damage to the print. The decision was made (before I arrived) to remove the mount backing which would allow the prints to relax and flatten.

Days were spent removing the backing down to the layer just above the back of the print. A scalpel with a no.22 blade was used to remove the backing layer by layer and a pencil grid was drawn on each layer to ensure even removal which would support the print during this process.


Curved photograph and mount


Grid on back of mount

After the majority of the backing mount had been removed and the prints began to relax and could be pressed under glass overnight. Backing removal was something I had learnt on my course but I had only ever done it on large prints rather than a collection of small ones.

Doing aqueous treatments on photographs was something I had not yet covered on my course. Emily showed me a humidification method that allowed enough moisture to soften the paste holding the last backing layer on, but didn’t affect the print. We used fords gold medal blotter, which was recommended for use with photographs as it is thinner and holds less water. We used a blotter sandwich for humidification, the prints were humidified for 30 minutes. After this time, the last layer of backing could be easily peeled away and the paste could be removed with a spatula.


Blotter sandwich


Removing the paste

After this treatment and being put into a press for a couple of days, the box of photographs that arrived at CRC curved and stiff are now relaxed and flattened and ready to be sent to the photography lab for digitisation. This was a great project to work on as I could follow the project almost from start to finish.

I have learnt many new skills and I have been introduced to new treatment methods throughout my time here. Alongside working with Emily and the conservation team in the studio, I have also had introductions to other members of staff who have taken time to show me their role in the wider CRC such as the Archives, Photography Lab, Exhibitions, Rare Books and the Musical Instruments Conservation studio.

This placement has been highly valuable to my studies and preparing for work after university.

Joey Shuker

Conservation Student Placement

‘Photography: A Victorian Sensation in Focus – curating, conserving and designing a major exhibition’

An acclaimed exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland, on the theme of photography during the Victorian period, has recently drawn to a close. The exhibition, which explored innovations in early photography, included over 1500 photographs and related objects from the museum’s collections. To ensure that the exhibition was staged safely and delivered successfully, conservators at NMS worked closely with the principal curator, the exhibition designer, and the object handling team. This collaboration prompted an event, which was co-hosted by the National Museums of Scotland, Icon Photographic Materials Group and Icon Scotland. The event took place in the afternoon on the 15th of September. Delegates were encouraged to tour the exhibition in the morning, at their leisure. Conservators from the National Library of Scotland were in attendance – and feedback was extremely positive.

“Hearing from the conservators at NMS was really useful. It was interesting to learn about their approach to displaying photographic material. I was particularly interested in their use of discreet magnets to display some of the objects”.

Lynn Teggart, conservator, National Library of Scotland

“I really enjoyed listening to Esther, the exhibition designer. I was fascinated to hear about her vision for the exhibition, and the way that she pulled the whole thing together aesthetically, to reveal the story of early photography in Scotland.”

Simona Cenci, conservator, National Library of Scotland

NMS Photography Exhibition

NMS Photography Exhibition

To start, principal curator Dr Alison Morrison-Low described her role in coordinating the exhibition. She discussed the overall theme and presented her reasons for staging a ‘showcase’ about the development of early photography, emphasising the impact made by Scottish pioneers like Hill and Adamson. She described her favourite pieces from the show and provided some fascinating background information about these objects.

Item from the exhibition

Item from the exhibition

Following Dr Morrison-Low’s comprehensive introduction, the exhibition designer Esther Titley described her particular aims and objectives. She explained that conservation concerns were at the forefront of her mind as she began to consider the space and plan the lighting. Esther noted that common ground had to be established between her and the conservators before any of them could proceed with the task in hand. She explained that the key to their success was in keeping the channels of communication open. Esther revealed her desire to knit the exhibition together visually, by creating a unified theme –using a limited but modern palette, bespoke and befitting display cases, and interactive AV units designed to look like old fashioned tripods. She carried out some extensive research at the start of the project, taking inspiration from other organisations, incorporating some of their presentation methods. For example, cabinet cards and carte-de-visits were slotted into position using nifty rails, and glass stereos were lit from behind using carefully calibrated timers to minimise the overall amount of light exposure.

Display case

Display case

Conservators from the National Library of Scotland were keen to hear about the experiences of their museum-based counterparts.  Lisa Cumming and Victoria Hanley spoke about the challenges that had to be addressed during the preparatory phase and at the point of installation. Lisa described the stringent timeframe, the sheer scale of the project, and the specific vulnerabilities of some of the objects that they were tasked with safeguarding. The conservation team employed various tools throughout the project. Victoria explained that she became a compulsive list maker in the run up to the exhibition, and that these lists helped her to keep track of the large number of (often very small) objects.  Assistant paper conservators Emmanuelle Largeteau and Rosalind Bos provided an account of the work which was carried out to protect and prepare the huge collection of daguerreotypes.

Item from the exhibition

Item from the exhibition

Finally, Kirsten Dunne from the National Galleries of Scotland provided an introduction to Micro-fading, data from which was used to inform decisions during the planning stages of the exhibition. Kirsten explained that this technique enabled some of the museum’s salt prints to be displayed confidently, dispelling fears about their extreme sensitivity to light. To begin with some of the prints were considered to be so light sensitive, that their inclusion in the exhibition was called into question. Kirsten explained that the results of her micro-fading tests were both positive and surprising. Micro-fading was used to determine the light-fastness of various prints, and this helped to establish an object rotation rota. It proved to be an invaluable and cost-effective tool – an enabler rather than an instrument of dissuasion.

In all, the event was a resounding success, spurring heated discussions about photographic processes, conservation techniques and the challenges of putting on large scale exhibitions. As a group we returned to our workbenches a little more inspired, and a little more knowledgeable too.

Shona Hunter


National Library of Scotland

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

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Photographic Preservation Training

The ICON Scotland Group, in collaboration with partner organisations, is offering a training day for heritage staff who work with small to medium sized photographic collections.

A few spaces are still available at the workshops in Aberdeen and Brora. Tickets are only £15 each, so book now to avoid missing out!

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Memories of Glass

This week’s article reviews a recent training event for Icon Interns on the conservation of glass plate negatives held at the RCAHMS and describes the process of repairing a plate using a pressure binding method…

Earlier this year, The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) hosted a training day on the repair of glass plate negatives organised by resident Icon Intern, Marta García-Celma. Other Icon Interns came from all over the country to take part in the training session. The day was split into two parts. In the morning, there were lectures covering the preventative and interventive conservation of glass plates and their digitisation. This was followed by a practical session in the afternoon, where we got to repair our very own glass plate. Continue reading

Review: AIC – Photographic Material Group – Biannual Winter Meeting 2015

During the 20th to the 21st of March 2015 at Harvard University and Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA, USA the last Biannual PMG (Photographic Material Group) Winter Meeting took place. This was the last of the 20 meetings prepared by the American Institute of Conservation, Photographic Material Group. I had the chance of attending to the magnificent conference and the opportunity of visiting different studios in Conservation of Photographic Materials as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the MoMA and The Better Image while seen some familiar faces and making new colleagues professionally and personally.

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