“Characterization of Silver Gelatin Photographs” Conference

On September 30-October 1, 2010, The Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works and The New York Public Library presented the “Characterization of Silver Gelatin Photographs” conference at The New York Public Library.

According to the AIC, this conference was intended to present the body of knowledge currently available on the subject of characterizing silver gelatin developed-out photographs. Attendees heard from a range of professionals, including conservators, curators, manufacturers, and artists. Highlights included a presentation on Paul Messier’s vast and growing collection of photographic papers, including their wonderful packaging, from the late 19th century to the present day, as well as a general history of papers. Artists Vera Lutter and Alison Rossiter discussed their contemporary chemical photography work, in terms of their process and their use of the silver gelatin process. Anne Cartier-Bresson spoke about characterization of silver gelatin prints using Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work to illustrate key points. Day 1 concluded with an overview of current research at the Image Permanence Institute (IPI), and a panel discussion on connoisseurship and the marketplace.

From industry, Howard Hopwood, Chairman of Harman Technology, producer of Ilford products, spoke about the tradition and future of silver halide technology. Kit Funderburk, formerly a senior technical manager at Kodak, discussed the manufacturing history of Kodak papers and, in a second talk on Day 2, indicated the ways in which paper characteristics could be used to help date papers and prints. A complete PDF of his book on the subject can be downloaded free, or view the separate chapters here, on the George Eastman House “Notes on Photographs” website.

On Day 2, there were a series of technical talks, with two sessions on using XRF (X-ray fluorescence spectrometry) to analyze photographs. One provided an overview of the history and status of the application of XRF, and the other dealt with the specific case of a set of stabilized prints. There were two sessions covering characterization projects at MoMA. One focused on how chemometrics can help categorize papers. In the other, Lee Ann Daffner discussed MoMA’s ongoing characterization of the Thomas Walther Collection of photographs. MoMA is working with Cultural Heritage Imaging to use RTI/PTM to study the collection. MoMA’s camera array and its associated software create a composite image from multiple images of a single photograph, enabling a full “virtual” examination of the photograph. Day 2 also included a talk on how the presence of optical brighteners can help date papers, as well as a session on silver gelatin DOP sample sets in development. The conference ended with a discussion of future directions and needed research projects.

All the sessions were recorded. If they’re made available online, we’ll publish the link in a future post.