Posts Tagged ‘photograph’

Exhibits create a conservation workflow beyond traditional treatment.  Exhibit work can include item preparation and installation, as well as broader preservation issues, such as management of light exposure, temperature, and relative humidity.  A recent exhibit extension required TSLAC Conservation to reevaluate total light exposure for the items on display.  Because light exposure is cumulative and irreversible, light is carefully monitored during exhibition to balance public access with preservation issues.

Photographs are especially sensitive to light damage, and different types of photo materials can tolerate different amounts of light.  We typically reference a standard set of guidelines from the National Park Service to evaluate acceptable gallery limits.  During our recent exhibit extension, we found that several photographs in our brightest display cases would be endangered by excessive light exposure.  We replaced these photographs with high quality reproductions for the remainder of the display period in order to preserve the originals.

A TSLAC archivist installs a photo reproduction to limit light exposure for the original photo.

A TSLAC archivist installs a photo reproduction to limit light exposure for the original photo.


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This month we highlight an early 1900s family photograph from the Callender, Goldsmith, and Cox family papers held at the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center in Liberty, TX.  The subject of the photo, Russell Goldsmith, was a bookkeeper at Gulf Oil Refinery in Port Arthur, TX.  Given its age and drawing-like appearance, this hand-colored image may be a gum bichromate print.  The 11” x 8.5” photograph is mounted on curved board, which was popular in early 20th-century family portraiture.  Boards were shaped into a dome with steam and custom framed beneath curved glass.  At some previous time, this photograph was separated from its frame and its vulnerable dome shape was broken.


Domed photograph with breaks, abrasions, creases, and previous repairs (graphite retouching.)

The goal for this treatment was to stabilize the item for storage and possible display within the skill set available to a book and paper conservator.  Photograph conservation is a specialized field.  It is hoped that the reversible elements of this treatment would allow work by a photo conservator at a later date if required.

After testing for media solubility, small amounts of thick wheat starch paste were worked into the exposed, broken board edges.  Broken segments were aligned and Japanese tissue was adhered on the back of the item.  This process required working in steps from the front and the back, while supporting the item’s curved shape.  Even this iterative approach required compromises of alignment between the image area and the board’s convex shape.  After many years of separation and changing environmental conditions, it is likely that the board pieces have drifted from their original shape.


Supporting the curved shape while mending.

The fragile nature of these repairs required careful housing for protection.  The domed image was centered on mat board with pH-neutral bulk surgical cotton and a buffer sheet of Japanese tissue beneath.  The item was then pressure-mounted to the backing board with window mats.  A window mat cut slightly smaller than the image was bulked with three layers of archival corrugated board to accommodate the depth of the curve.  Finally, a top window mat and cover mat were attached.


Corrugated sink mat edges being covered with paper (outside edges complete.)

Abrasions in the image area along the broken edges were inpainted with acrylic paint and methyl cellulose, with an eye toward minimizing the visual impact of the damage.  As the least reversible step in this treatment, inpainting presented an ethical dilemma.  The choice was made due to the distracting nature of the cracks and the low probability of future re-treatment.  The matted photograph will be stored in an artifact box.  It is suitable for viewing and display as matted.


Reassembled and inpainted domed photo in sink mat.

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Though our conservation lab at TSLAC focuses primarily on books and paper, we also care for the non-paper-based archival items found in our collections.  This month, we created a housing for an undated photographic glass plate negative from the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center in Liberty, TX.

A glass plate negative consists of photographic emulsion cast on a glass plate.  The negative image on the plate is later developed into a photographic print.  Glass makes these negatives very fragile.  When they break, their fractured edges begin to abrade one other, causing more damage to the glass and the media.

Broken glass plate negative in modified sink mat.

Broken glass plate negative in modified sink mat.

Our housing is based on a design from the National Archives.  The broken negative is stored in a covered sink mat for protection.  Small spacers separate the broken pieces to minimize abrasion.  The mat is stored flat in a box with a warning label regarding careful handling.

Detail of spacers separating broken fragments.

Detail of spacers separating broken fragments.

The outer mat edges are hinged, allowing the item to be removed from its housing as needed.  However, future removal should be rare, since the image was scanned before treatment.

Scanned image from glass plate negative.

Scanned image from glass plate negative.

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TSLAC Conservation has recently worked on several panoramic photographs. Popular for documenting sweeping landscapes or large groups of people, panoramic photos are created with specialty equipment and large-format developing processes. Many images date to the early part of the 20th century and measure 10 – 12” tall by four, five, or even six feet long.

Panoramic photos are commonly found rolled, as seen in this item awaiting treatment:

Tightly-rolled panoramic photograph.

Tightly-rolled panoramic photograph.

Rolling is a common non-archival storage method due to the typical size of these items. Rolling can also happen naturally, due to the differing ways humidity impacts the photograph’s paper backing and image layer. Once rolled, these photos strongly resist being forced flat. Doing so often results in disfiguring cracks, as seen in this recent donation:

This sharp crack is typical of those caused by forcing a rolled panoramic photo flat.

This sharp crack is typical of forcing a rolled panoramic photo flat.

To avoid this damage, conservators humidify panoramic photos, open them very slowly, and then allow them to dry under weight. Once flattened, these items are at new risk for rough handling due to their unusual size. Proper housing can minimize handling damage and curling.

There is no single, standard housing for panoramic photos. Our design features a support of 40-pt box board with a cover sheet of archival plastic. The plastic sheet folds over the support board at top and bottom. The bottom fold is secured to the back of the board, while the top fold remains unsecured.

Housed panoramic photo depicts a group of people at the Texas State Capitol, possibly WWI-era.  Archivists can work to identify this image now that access is improved.

Housed panoramic photo depicts a group of people at the Texas State Capitol, possibly WWI-era. Archivists can work to identify this image now that access is improved.

The housing keeps the item flat, supported, and easily viewable. If needed, the photo can be removed from the housing without scratching by lifting the cover sheet. Future housings may use a micro-corrugated support board for improved rigidity and reduced weight.

To learn more about TSLAC’s photography collection, stay tuned for our exhibit of 19th century photography opening in late September 2014.

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