May 1999 Volume 21 Number 2

Conference Review

The Harrison D. Horblit Collection of Early Photography Symposium at the Houghton Library, Harvard, March 10-11, 1999


The AIC Photographic Materials Group, Winter Meeting 1999 at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, March 12-13, 1999

The organizers of these two meetings scheduled them consecutively, and encouraged participants at one to attend the other, but they were otherwise not directly affiliated. The Horblit Symposium was arranged to honor the relatively recent donation of the late Harrison Horblit's fine collection of nineteenth century photography to the Houghton Library at Harvard. It featured a day and a half of talks and discussions among historians of photographs, including Hans P. Kraus Jr., Larry J. Schaaf, Robert Sobieszek, Andrew Szegedy-Maszak, Grant B. Romer, and John Szarkowski. Other contributers (discussants) included Denise Bethel, Merry A. Foresta, Julia van Haaften, Anne McCauley, Martha A. Sandweiss and Alan Trachtenberg. The Symposium also allowed several opportunities to view the concurrent exhibition at the Houghton of part of the Horblit Collection, entitled Salts of Silver, Toned with Gold.

Although some of the presentations were unfortunately allowed to run long, leaving little time for the quite interesting panel discussions, all the speakers had interesting and informative comments to make. Some, such as Hans Kraus, recalled their recollections of Horblit and offered insights into his collecting habits. Others reported on specific research they had undertaken on aspects of the collection--research which was more or less successful, depending on the project, but which was almost invariably either interesting, entertaining, or both. From a conservator's point of view, some of the most telling comments were made by Denise Bethel, director of the Department of Photographs at Sotheby's. Though conservators do not often think of themselves as having much in common with appraisers, it was clear that the two fields share an appreciation of the photograph as a physical object which few of the historians present could speak to so directly.

The PMG Meeting which followed offered more standard conservation fare. On Friday the 12th, after introductory remarks from the curatorial department of the Boston MFA, Jose Orraca offered insights on connoisseurship and the treatment of prints; Lee Ann Daffner, who has surveyed the Horblit Collection on its acquisition by the Houghton, spoke about a group of paper negatives by Frederic Flacheron within the collection; Peter Roth of the Polaroid Corporation summarized stability concerns with Resin-Coated papers; Laura Downey presented her ongoing research into 20th-century photographic mounts, a version of which was heard at the 1998 WAAC Meeting at Timberline; and Lyzanne Gann of the Nationaal Fotorestauratie Atelier in Rotterdam related the problem-solving compromises which were worked out in the treatment and exhibition of several albums belonging to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Continuing on Saturday the 13th, Hans C. de Herder, also of the Nationaal Fotorestauratie Atelier in Rotterdam, spoke about two extremely unusual gold daguerreotypes; John C. Miller described recent experimental work in cleaning daguerreotypes with lasers; Herman Maes of the Royal Academy of Art in Antwerp explained the structure and a treatment of Megalethoscope plates; Tamara Luzeckyj of the Buffalo State College Department of Art Conservation evaluated the effects of treatments to remove silver "mirroring" from photographic prints; Doug Nishimura, with technical assistance from Jim Reilly, both of the Image Permanence Institute, introduced new software which is intended to improve the usefulness of datalogger information--a subject the field will certainly hear more about in future; Fernanda Valverde of IPI and the Escuela Nacional de Conservacion, Restauracion, y Museographia in Mexico City outlined her proposal for an academic program in photograph conservation for Mexico; and Grant Romer and Gary Albright reported on recent progress with the planning of the new Andrew W. Mellon Advanced Residency Program and Collaborative Workshops.

A final "Tips" session included several shorter presentations: Tom Edmonson offered thoughts "Rethinking and Re-Evaluating Our Treatments" to be continued at the 2000 Meeting in Philadelphia; John McElhone of the Art Gallery of Ontario aired some collection management concerns; Bertrand Laverdrine introduced a new light-sensitivity scale which is in the works; and several people discussed the ramifications of optical brighteners in twentieth-century photographic papers for treatment, authenticity, and exhibition.

Participants at the PMG Meeting were also treated to a reception at the Houghton Library to view the Horblit exhibition, as well as a reception at the Boston Athenaeum. Of course, the visitors also had opportunities to view several other fine exhibitions of photographs in the Boston area, including two at the Boston MFA (Abelardo Morell and the Camera's Eye, and French Photography: Le Gray to Atget).

This Winter Meeting of PMG marked the 20th anniversary of the groups' founding. It followed the usual pattern of interesting talks and friendly break-time conversations, passing all too quickly. The consecutive scheduling of the Horblit Symposium was an interesting and effective way of extending the experience while introducing alternate points of view and opening the dialogue to another, related field.

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