AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting – Photographic Materials Session, May 11, “The Photograph Information Record” by Erin Murphy and Nora Kennedy

At last month’s AIC meeting, I had the pleasure of attending several of the PMG sessions, including this one on the Photograph Information Record, or “PIR” for short.  The form was introduced in 2009 following several years of collaboration between the Photographic Materials Research Group, photograph conservators, and colleagues in conservation science, collections management, and curatorial.  The goal was to create an international standard for an artist’s questionnaire, to collect essential information to aid in preservation efforts. The result was a concise, two-page form.  A completed PIR covers the history and context of creation, ownership, exhibition, conservation, and publication of a photograph, and provides information about the tools and processes of image creation, printing, and finishing.  It asks artists to discuss what aspects of the work they consider integral, and gives them an opportunity to provide a statement about the creation and preservation of the work.

In this session Erin Murphy, photograph conservator at the New York Public Library, reviewed the history of the PIR and discussed its present stage of development.  Many institutions around the world have formally adopted the PIR, and now plans are underway to collect feedback from users in order to develop the next generation – a new and improved form.

French, Spanish, and Japanese versions are available, with more translations in the works.  For some committees working on translations, it poses a real challenge to agree on terminology or create terms in the language that didn’t exist before.  Some mentioned that those discussions may be suitable for the wiki, and for the glossary project.

Future goals include expanding the visibility and availability of the PIR on the web.  Right now, the form is available in several languages as a free download on the AIC website at  ICOM-CC-PM members can access it on the ICOM-CC website.  The form can also be found on a few other sites, such as a gallery or library here and there. A secondary PR campaign will also help raise awareness and encourage more institutions, galleries, and photographers themselves to adopt this valuable tool.  Some attendees suggested potential audiences, including photography curators, and the registrars’ groups of AAM and ICOM.

Another goal is to see if improvements can be made to the PDF format.  Form fields in the PDF make it easy to complete the form, but the information is not easy to import into museum databases.  The PIR’s creators would also like to see access to the PIR expand within institutions to reach more departments and researchers.

It’ll be exciting to see the new directions that the PIR form takes in the coming months.

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