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Subject: Exhibiting photographs

Exhibiting photographs

From: Frank A. Reynolds <fr0c>
Date: Thursday, August 3, 2000
Spreadbury Ann Ann <a.spreadbury [at] wellcome__ac__uk> writes

>We are trying to update our policy for the loan and exhibition of
>photographs. We have always recommended that originals are not
>exhibited, but copies used instead. This is considered somewhat
>inflexible, particularly in view of the number of high profile
>exhibitions of original photographs that there are, and there is
>increasing pressure on us to loan/exhibit original material, some of
>it quite early. I would be interested in the position taken by other
>institutions on this issue and in any established policies.

This does not address the issue of a policy on loaning/exhibiting
original materials, but having seen many poor quality reproductions
of photographs used in exhibitions or in publications.  I would come
to the conclusion that part of the reluctance to have reproductions
of photographs in exhibits is the quality of the reproductions.

Is your collection a collection of images or mediums?  Of course
when it comes to a collection of photographs it can be both.  If it
is mainly a collection of images then a "good" copy or a new print
if you have the negatives will do.  If it is a collection of mediums
for some only inspecting the original will do.  Since in an
exhibition the materials will no doubt be behind glass or
plexiglass, a "good" reproduction should satisfy most discerning
viewers.  I am speaking of high quality photographic reproductions.

For example the backlighted transparencies you see in the expensive
jewelry or cosmetic sections of a department store. Keep in mind
that calling photographs black and white is a misnomer.  While the
goal for most photographs is to have an over-all neutral tone to
them, they are in fact blue or brown (warm) in tone, depending on
the brand of paper and developer used.  Still other photographs have
been processed in a toning bath, sepia being very popular.  The
point being is if you reproduce photographs using black and white
film you discard the tone and inadvertently degrade the viewing

The easiest way to retain more of the actual viewing experience of
older mediums is to use color film.  The other is after
photographing with black and white film, use a photographic paper
that matches the original paper in texture and tone and/or process
the paper to imitate the tone. There are darkroom books on early
processes so you can get real close to the original.  But any
reproduction that simulates the original process is going to be more
expensive and time consuming that using color film.

Not a curator just a photographer,

Frank A. Reynolds
Graphics Manager
Hunt Institute
Carnegie Mellon University

                  Conservation DistList Instance 14:12
                  Distributed: Friday, August 11, 2000
                       Message Id: cdl-14-12-001
Received on Thursday, 3 August, 2000

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