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Subject: Exhibition on photograph conservation

Exhibition on photograph conservation

From: Nora Kennedy <nora.kennedy>
Date: Wednesday, January 24, 2001
Photography: Processes, Preservation, and Conservation
The Howard Gilman Gallery
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
January 30 - May 6, 2001

An exploration of the technical history of photographic processes
and of related conservation, preservation, and connoisseurship
issues will be presented in an exhibition opening at The
Metropolitan Museum of Art on January 30, 2001.  Photography:
Processes, Preservation, and Conservation, on view through May 6 in
the Museum's Howard Gilman Gallery, will include approximately 35
works by some of the most revered names in photography, ranging from
the superbly preserved to the unfortunately time-worn, with
before-and-after treatment documentation, microscopic views, and
examples of current methods for examination, analysis, preservation,
and treatment. The exhibition celebrates the January 2001 opening of
the Museum's new, state-of-the-art Sherman Fairchild Center for
Works on Paper and Photograph Conservation.

The exhibition is made possible by the Henry Nias Foundation, Inc.

Philippe de Montebello, Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art,

   "From its inception, photography has always had a somewhat split
    personality--part art, part science.  While the Museum aims to
    collect and exhibit the high points of photographic art, we can
    better appreciate the aesthetics of those works, and our
    conservators can better safeguard them for future generations if
    we also understand the technical history of the medium.  By
    revealing this often hidden side of photography, we hope to
    allow our public to gain a fuller appreciation for the
    photographs displayed on our walls."

Photography: Processes, Preservation, and Conservation will be
arranged chronologically, beginning with the first publicly
displayed photographic process--the daguerreotype--and will conclude
with five different processes employed in color
photography--chromogenic printing, silver dye bleach printing, dye
transfer printing, carbro printing, and ink jet printing. Works by
William Henry Fox Talbot, Carleton Watkins, Thomas Eakins, Edward
Steichen, and Berenice Abbott, among others, will be on view.

   "Only in the past three decades has photograph conservation
    arrived at current levels of expertise and ethical standards as
    an outgrowth of photographic science and other areas of
    conservation specialization," said Nora Kennedy, Sherman
    Fairchild Conservator of Photographs at the Museum. "The roots
    of photographic conservation, however, can be found in the
    experiments of the early photographers themselves, as they tried
    to enhance and revivify their works."

The extraordinary precision of daguerreotypes--one-of-a-kind images
on silver-plated copper sheets--will be demonstrated in a view of
Paris made in 1849 by Choiselat and Ratel, in which even the buttons
on the uniform of a distant soldier are visible through a
microscope.  Preservation of daguerreotypes in period and modern
housings will be shown, and the risks of chemical cleaning will be
pointed out on a Southworth and Hawes portrait that a
well-intentioned owner tried to clean in 1934.

A two-part panorama of the first photographic printing firm, Reading
Establishment (Talbot and Henneman, 1846), details the steps
involved in the paper print process, which was invented by Talbot
and which gradually supplanted daguerreotypes in the 1850s. In its
early days, photography was handcrafted, and each photographer's
work had a particular texture, tone, and color, the result of
individual chemical recipes and procedures.

Five splendid salted paper prints from the 1840s and 1850s by Louis
Robert, David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, Gustave Le Gray,
Frank Chauvassaigne, and Louis-Disiri Blanquart-Evrard will
demonstrate this.

Two 1860s albumen silver prints by Carleton Watkins reveal how
conditions of storage and display affect photographs.  One print,
originally from an album kept in a library and rarely viewed, is
clear, intense, and luminous; the other print, which was framed and
long exhibited before joining the Metropolitan's collection, is
discolored and stained from light and the poor materials of its
mount and wood frame.

Highlighting the critical role of the conservator, a platinum print
of a male nude by Thomas Eakins, ca. 1890, will be displayed
alongside detail photographs of the print prior to treatment. An
explanation of how the conservator restored the photograph to
structural stability and aesthetic integrity will describe aspects
of deterioration and conservation in vivid detail.  The
state-of-the-art analytical tools of the conservator will also be
explored through a turn-of-the-century photograph by Edward
Steichen, an artist who experimented with a variety of painterly
photographic techniques that rendered the works difficult to
analyze. The precise elemental makeup of such pictures can now be
discovered through non-destructive x-ray fluorescence, which enables
the conservator to track an artist's technical development and to
make more appropriate recommendations for treatment, storage, and

Technical methods to help determine authenticity, a major concern of
collectors, curators, and other connoisseurs, will also be
displayed. Analysis of microscopic fibers from photographic paper
can help to date a work, as can the presence of optical brighteners
that were added to many photographic papers after World War II and
are visible under ultra-violet light. The issue of "vintage prints"
(prints made close to the time of the original negative) will be
presented through two dramatically different black-and-white prints
of Berenice Abbott's 1925 portrait of writer Djuna Barnes, one made
in the 1920s, the other in the 1980s.

Artificially aged samples of five color processes--chromogenic print
(the most common), silver dye bleach print, dye transfer print,
carbro print, and ink jet print--will illustrate the degree to which
each of these processes is susceptible to deterioration,
underscoring the fact that museums must take special steps to
preserve even the most contemporary photographs.

A free brochure will serve as an illustrated guide to the
exhibition, detailing photographic processes and conservation, and
providing guidelines for preservation and resources.  A variety of
educational programs will be presented in conjunction with
Photography: Processes, Preservation, and Conservation.

The exhibition is organized by Malcolm Daniel, Associate Curator in
the Department of Photographs, and Nora Kennedy.  Nancy Reinhold,
Associate Conservator of Photographs, and graduate interns in
Photograph Conservation Lisa Barro, Erin Murphy, and Adrienne
Lundgren have assisted in the preparation of the exhibition.

                  Conservation DistList Instance 14:40
                 Distributed: Friday, January 26, 2001
                       Message Id: cdl-14-40-007
Received on Wednesday, 24 January, 2001

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