42nd Annual Meeting – Photographic Materials, May 31, "Retouch Practices Revealed in the Thomas Walther Collection Project" by Lee Ann Daffner

MoMA‘s Thomas Walther collection contains over 340 photographs Walther collected from 1909 to 1949 in Eastern Europe, the United States, and Paris. Many of these photographs will be on exhibition at MoMA between November 08, 2014–April 26, 2015. The departments of Photography and Conservation at MoMA have been collaborating on researching this collection of Modernist photography which will culminate with a publication that will be available in early 2015 and a symposium on December 12, 2014. The results of this collaborative research will also be available on the OBJECT:PHOTO website which will include a timeline of Walther’s life and identification of photographs by location. The research Lee Ann presented at AIC focuses on artists’ working methods, specifically retouching techniques. Retouching can be done to either a print or a negative to enhance effects or mask imperfections. Retouching includes reductive techniques (such as scraping) versus additive techniques (painting, drawing, etc.), and an artist’s discretion to use any of these techniques can inform the viewer about the photographer’s intentions.
Summary by Greta Glaser, Owner of Photographs Conservation of DC

42nd Annual Meeting – Photographic Materials, May 30, "Preservation of Deborah Luster's One Big Self" by Theresa Andrews

Luster is a Louisiana based artist who began her own career in photography in 1988 after the death of her mother. Both her mother and grandmother were photographers. One Big Self is an artwork comprising 287 4″ x 5″ silver gelatin developed out photographs on aluminum plates, stored in a steel cabinet with three drawers, and a lamp on top of the cabinet to facilitate viewing. The photographs are portraits of Louisiana prison inmates taken between 1998 and 2002. On the back of each metal plate is a personal description of the person in each photograph. The artwork is intended to be interactive, allowing the viewer to handle the photographs and read the inscriptions, seeing the subjects as real people. The metal plates are covered in paint, followed by the gelatin emulsion layer used to print the photographic image which is selenium toned. Creating these plates is very labor intensive, and Luster only manages to produce three to four plates per day. She inscribes the personal information about the inmates on the plates with a dremel tool.
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA) was faced with the challenging task of displaying One Big Self in the way the artist intended – as an interactive work – after it was acquired in 2003. The security and physical preservation of the photographs were the two biggest threats to the work. The piece ended up being displayed alone in a room with one museum guard on duty at all times, which seemed appropriate in the context of the artwork’s subject matter. It was decided that only 200 plates would be displayed at any time, and twenty portraits were randomly selected to never be displayed. The plates that have been on display have indeed seen changes. Some plates have been caught in the drawers and become bent, edges of the emulsion on some plates have been abraded, and some of the plates have yellowed. Although the artist is dismayed at learning about the yellowing, the cost and time of replacing each plate as it becomes too worn to be viewed makes reprinting each portrait an inefficient solution. Out of the total 287 plates, excepting the 20 that will never be displayed, only 200 are on display at any given time, so 67 plates can still be swapped with any plates that become too damaged for exhibition.
Summary by Greta Glaser, Owner of Photographs Conservation of DC

42nd Annual Meeting – Photographic Materials, May 30, "Fototeca Pedro Guerra: Conservation of the Photographic Archives" by Cinthya Cruz

The archives of Pedro Guerra are part of the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán in Mérida, where the climate is hot and humid. Photographic prints and negatives in this collection include many photographic processes and materials, from albumen and silver gelatin to glass plates and nitrate negatives. The goals of the photo archives are to stabilize the existing materials, catalog and organize the objects, and monitor and maintain a safe environment. Condition issues affecting the collection include broken and scratched glass, finger prints, sticky emulsion, and fungus. Nitrate negatives are immediately placed in frozen storage in Marvelseal bags after they are treated and scanned. Object codes and registration numbers specific to the archive are written on the exteriors of the bags so negatives can be located when necessary. Enclosures for other photographic materials, such as sink mats for broken plates and acid-free paper envelopes for photographic prints, also contain object codes and registration numbers. The object codes refer to the subject matter contained in the photographic image and the type of object.
Summary by Greta Glaser, Owner of Photographs Conservation of DC

42nd Annual Meeting – Angels Project, June 1, California Historical Society

This year’s Angels Project took place at the California Historical Society (CHS), a non-profit organization founded in 1871 to celebrate California’s rich history. Textile conservator Meg Geiss-Mooney and photograph conservator Gawain Weaver led the group of about 25 enthusiastic volunteers and had our project and supplies ready to go early Sunday morning.
Prior to the AIC meeting, Gawain had surveyed the CHS collection for approximately 200 photograph albums that were in need of treatment and/or re-housing. We divided up into teams based on specialty and skill set, and went to work to assess, surface clean, stabilize, and box each album. The library was organized into stations to help with workflow and I joined the group that was examining each album to identify the photographic processes and provide recommendations for treatment. Not only was this a great way for me to put my photo conservation skills to the test, but as a native Californian, it was a pleasure to look through these beautiful albums featuring historic images of local monuments and people. Using a pre-made single page survey form, we denoted all necessary identification and condition information to help with the following treatment steps and for later catalogers at CHS.
Station two began treatment, and was set up to vacuum, brush, and clean with eraser crumbs the dirtiest album covers and pages. A special table of volunteers was armed with the proper PPE to tackle any possible mold. Next, a group of expert conservators were completing treatment steps such as re-attaching loose photographs, mending torn pages, and tape removal, as needed on a case-by-case basis. Finally, the albums were whisked away to be housed in new archival-quality boxes that were labeled and placed on a cart to return to storage.
At the end of the day, all albums were assessed and boxed, and many received significant treatment steps that will no doubt prolong the life of these valuable objects. For those albums that did not receive treatment, they can be flagged by priority and sent out to a private conservator in the future. As with Angels Projects that I’ve participated in in the past, I appreciated the opportunity to meet, learn from, and work with many new conservation professionals, and I was especially happy that this project allowed me to directly benefit the photographic collection through treatment and re-housing.
Many thanks to Meg, Gawain, Ruth Seyler, and the rest of the AIC staff for organizing this year’s project, and to the CHS staff for generously providing the volunteers with ample working space and supplies, a delicious lunch, and a bonus free annual membership to the Society!
For more images from this and previous Angels Projects, please visit the AIC Angels Projects Flickr page.

42nd Annual Meeting – Photographic Materials, May 31, “Technical Investigation of Environmental Concerns for the Exhibition of Diazotypes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” by Greta Glaser, Katie Sanderson, and Maggie Wessling

Francesca Woodman, Blueprint for a Temple (1980), diazo collage. Image courtesy metmuseum.org.
Francesca Woodman, Blueprint for a Temple (1980), diazo collage, 173 1/4 × 111 3/16 in. Image courtesy metmuseum.org.

Greta Glaser and Maggie Wessling presented on diazotype research that was conducted in the Photograph Conservation Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art between 1999-2012. One catalyst for this research was the 2012 display of Francesca Woodman’s Blueprint for a Temple, made up of 29 separate diazotype prints collaged together to form one image. The goal for research was to determine the best display and storage methods for the long-term preservation of diazotypes—generally through to be sensitive to deterioration caused by the environment.
As an overview of the process, Glaser described the nature of diazotypes as single layer direct positives often printed on paper supports of macerated cotton and purified wood pulp. The combination of diazo compounds with a phenol coupler and acid stabilizer produces the image, resulting in a range of possible colors, including the most common bluish-purple. Diazotypes were first marketed in the United States in the 1920s and could be used for photographic images as well as architectural drawings and other reproductions because of their ability to print with very little dimensional change from the original negative.
In order to make a thorough investigation of diazotypes and their response to the environmental, Glaser and Wessling set up light and relative humidity experiments on vintage as well as freshly processed sample papers, and Sanderson collected data on the Woodman print during installation. All experiments were calculated for roughly six months of display. Their combined spectrophotometer and microfade testing analysis produced the following summarized results:

  • High humidity and light = yellowing and fading (reddening)
  • All environments at or below 50% RH = same result
  • In the dark, yellowing still occurs, but fading does not = greenish cast
  • The rate of color change accelerates with age
  • After 20 minutes of testing, samples fade between blue wool 2-3 (equivalent to approximately 1.2 million lux hours of exposure to cause noticeable fading)

Wessling summarized their conclusions from the study and highlighted the fact that environmental conditions were not controlled during analysis, which may have an affect on the data. Ultimately, diazotypes will fade with light exposure and will become yellowed in the dark, but if we can reduce the relative humidity, especially during display, the effects of exhibition will do less to alter the permanence of these photographs.

Health & Safety Committee Call for Student Member

Are you concerned about the health and safety of yourself and others? Do you want to get involved in AIC and be part of a great team? Will you be enrolled in a graduate conservation program during the upcoming academic year?
The Health & Safety Committee of AIC is seeking a new student member to serve a 2-year term (2014-2016).
Health & Safety is a very active committee, with members contributing articles and guides to the AIC News and AIC Wiki; hosting an informational booth, workshops, and a full day of sessions at the Annual Meeting; and regularly addressing questions and issues related to health and safety in our field.
Membership parameters:

  • All H&S Committee members are AIC members
  • Members serve a 4-year term with an option to serve a second term if other members approve. Student members serve a single, 2-year term.
  • There are 10 H&S member positions, including Chair, 8 professional members, and 1 student member; at least one member is a health professional.
  • The members are supported by an AIC board liaison, the Collections Care Member, and a staff liaison, the Membership and Meetings Director.

Student member position description:
The student member will share with the other committee members the responsibility to plan for AIC Annual Meeting activities, attend meetings/conference calls, contribute to H&S projects, and represent the organization. This position will also offer the student member an opportunity to act as the liaison between H&S and the Emerging Conservation Professionals Network. The ideal candidate will have a strong interest in health and safety issues, and a desire to participate and learn from the more experienced members of the committee.
For more information on the H&S Committee, please visit our website: www.conservation-us.org/healthandsafety. If you would like details on the duties and commitment of the position, please contact current student member Heather Brown, hbrown@udel.edu. Potential candidates should submit a resume or CV and statement of interest to Chair Kathy Makos, kamakos@verizon.net, by April 1, 2014.

41st Annual Meeting – Contemporary Art Session, May 31, “Automating Classification of Historic Photographic Paper from Surface Texture Images,” by Paul Messier

Screen shot 2013-06-08 at 9.55.59 AMFor over ten years, Photograph Conservator Paul Messier has been researching the physical properties of historic photographic papers—fibers, thickness, optical brighteners, and manufacturer markings.  Most recently, Messier and co-authors* have been working to objectively characterize the surface texture of papers as a means to classify individual photographs as well as collections.
Using his personal collection of over 5,000 historic paper samples along with photographs from the Thomas Walther collection at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, photomicrographs of each surface were captured using a “texture-scope” available only at the Library of Congress and the National Gallery of Art. The images were then processed to abstract the features of the paper and allow for easier measurement of the distance between each vector height (i.e. texture peak). The data were sent out to various engineering teams with the goal of creating affinity diagrams that reveal patterns of paper matches. Although each team came up with a different methodology for matching samples, they all achieved results very similar to human detection showing a spectrum of matches from the same sheet of paper, same package, or same manufacturer.
With these successful results, Messier hopes to continue collecting images to be stored on an open-access database. Eventually, institutions and collectors should be able to upload their own photomicrographs and search within the system to discover affinities across a collection. This information about the paper’s manufacture can then be applied to connoisseurship and conservation purposes.
*This project was a collaboration between Paul Messier, Richard Johnson, James Coddington, Patrice Abry, Philip Klausmeyer, Andrew G. Klein, Eric Postma, William A. Sethares, Sally L. Wood, and Lee Ann Daffner. To read more, please see the studies listed on the Paul Messier website.

41st Annual Meeting – Photographic Materials Business Meeting and Luncheon, May 30, “Conservators as Diplomats,” by Mary-Jo Adams

FincaVigiaThe PMG luncheon was business as usual, with an approval of the minutes and budget, and a welcoming of the new committee, but we also had the privilege of hearing from Mary-Jo Adams, Executive Director of the Finca Vigía Foundation.
Founded in 2003, the Finca Vigía Foundation is an American organization developed to preserve Ernest Hemingway’s house and property in San Francisco de Paula, Cuba, about 12 miles outside of Havana. Hemingway lived in the house from 1939-1960 and it was opened to the public by the Cuban government after Hemingway’s death. In 2005, Finca Vigía (“Lookout Farm”) was deemed one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 11 Most Endangered Places, and in 2006 it was added to the World Monument Fund’s 100 Most Endangered Sites. The house itself is still filled with original furniture, artwork, and other objects, including Hemingway’s car and personal library. During Adams’s talk, she detailed the work that has been done up to this point to restore the site to its original appearance.
The majority of funding for the Foundation’s preservation efforts comes from corporations, as donations to Cuba can be a bit tricky for the private sector. With that money, Adams and her team have been able to bring in specialists in architecture, engineering, and conservation to begin the process of repairing the estate and the collection. NEDCC has partnered with the foundation to consult on the conservation of archival materials, and photograph conservator Monique Fischer traveled to Cuba in 2012 to contribute to the efforts. All of the necessary materials were brought from the U.S. to treat, digitize, and re-house the books, papers, and photographs in the library collection.
Another part of the initiative includes the training of Cuban volunteers on site and in preservation classes and workshops held in Havana. As Adams described, the greatest challenge has been to collaborate with the Cuban people through their many cultural and language differences. For instance, the Spanish word for “endangered” roughly translates to “neglected,” so it is Adams’s job to explain the ongoing risks to the estate and best practices for its preservation. The title to the talk, “Conservators as Diplomats” refers to the need for cultural heritage professionals to work at gaining the trust of their foreign colleagues before trying to force help upon them…It also doesn’t hurt to have the assistance of international celebrities like Cuban-American home improvement guru Bob Villa, who not only advised on areas of the building repair, but has advocated for site’s preservation.
Adams expects that active restoration efforts of Finca Vigía should be complete by 2017. For more information, please visit the Foundation’s website.

AIC’s 39th Annual Meeting, Book and Paper Group afternoon sessions, June 3

Investigating Crayon Removal from Paper Based Japanese Prints

Hsin-Chen Tsai, Andrew W. Mellon Conservation Fellow, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Problem: Crayon “graffiti” on 20th century Japanese prints by Munakata Shiko. The prints were mounted to screens, and the graffiti appeared at about 4 ft. from the ground—around the same height as a child. Unlike graffiti on a painted wall, however, crayon does not come off of printed paper quite as easily.

Experiment: Mock-ups were created with Japanese paper, printed with black sumi ink, then colored over with both waxed-based and water soluble crayons. Possible solvents were chosen from the wax section on the Teas diagram and included petroleum ether, mineral spirits, toluene and xylene. These solvents were tested in three situations:

  1. Solvent on a swab
  2. A bath of water and solvent, followed by blotting of the stain
  3. Damp blotter surface with local application of moisture and solvent, followed by blotting of the stain


  1. Solvents alone did not reduce crayon to a satisfactory level; mineral spirits created a transparent stain visible through the paper
  2. With the bath, it was impossible to control the amount of solvent used, but the overall result was positive
  3. Crayon was lifted locally, but also migrated along with solvents to form tidelines

The ultimate solution was the use of a water-based treatment with toluene and xylene, such as that used in Experiment 2. For best results, Hsin-Chen suggested first manually reducing the graffiti with a kneaded eraser and scalpel.


Lynn Brostoff, Library of Congress

The Relationship Between Inherent Material Evidence in Cultural Heritage and Preservation Treatment Planning

Lynn Brostoff, PhD and Fenella France, PhD, Preservation Research and Testing Division, Preservation Directorate, Library of Congress

Problem: A 1513 edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia was in poor condition, and puzzled conservators as to its history. Lynn set out to answer many questions, including: what was causing seven of the forty-seven maps to deteriorate?

Experiment: Using XRF, the pigments and paper were analyzed on maps of both good and poor condition, and in various areas of the sheet.

Results: Maps in poor condition contained Fe and Cu—two elements that cause the degradation of cellulose—as wells as K, S and Al—elements that together form potash alum. The pulp repairs and gutters of these pages, however, did not contain such elements and remained in good condition. It was decided that the paper quality used in these cases was poor, requiring a past restorer to “strengthen” the bound papers with a potash alum solution; gutters were not coated, and mends were made with untreated pulp.

This information, along with the result that one of the green pigments contains copper, answers the question about the differing quality in the maps, and also informs conservators for treatment planning.


Light Bleaching: Scientific Investigation of Various Effects on Different Properties of Several Old Papers

Marion Verborg, Paper Conservation Fellow, Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts

Problem: As part of her graduate conservation program at the Sorbonne, Marion carried out research on the history and effects of light bleaching.

Experiment: Using an array of papers of varying quality (wood pulp and rag paper) and age (from late 19th c. to present day), Marion created test strips and subjected them to different conditions:

  1. A 25 min. wash in condition water
  2. A 4 hr. wash in conditioned water
  3. Washed in conditioned water, dried, then exposed to light
  4. Washed in conditioned water for 4 hrs, then exposed to light while still immersed in the bath

The paper samples were aged in an oven before undergoing a serious of tests including pH, tensile strength, color, and degree of polymerization.

Results: Light exposure in dry conditions can be extremely damaging to paper, all wood pulp papers become weak and yellow over time no matter what the level of treatment, and light bleaching is generally an efficient treatment for rag papers because it produced an aesthetically pleasing result without harming the paper extensively.

**Comments/questions from the audience:

  • Does the hydrogen bonding need to be reset after treatment?
  • Magnesium can be used as a substitute for calcium when conditioning water baths, and produces better results after aging
  • Paper needs to be rinsed thoroughly (3 times) after bleaching to prevent color reversion


A Comparison of the Use of Sodium Metabisulfite and Sodium Dithionite for Removing Rust Stains from Paper

Seth Irwin, Alaska Paper Conservation

Problem: While conducting a treatment on a highly rust stained paper document in Petersburg, AK, Seth discovered sodium dithionite (SD) as a reducing agent to convert insoluble Fe (III) into soluble Fe (II). The setback: dithionite is expensive and toxic, and could not be shipped to the location before his treatment deadline.

Experiment: What is a suitable alternative for SD? With one more oxygen, sodium metabisulfite (SM) is a less expensive and non-hazardous option commonly used in wine making. In order to test SM as a viable solution, Seth rusted up some paper, and then used both SM and SD solutions (separately, with EDTA as the chelating agent) to create a comparison.


SD- best when cost is no issue ($7.00 for a 1 liter 5% bath); requires ventilation and HAZMAT shipping, but removes corrosion in 4-6 hours.

SM- cheaper ($1.20 for a 1 liter 10% bath); takes longer, and only removes light to medium stains, but could possibly be done on a suction table rather than in a bath if there are chemically sensitive areas of the paper.

**Comments/questions from the audience:

  • A commercial product called White Brite exists, and may also remove rust stains in paper.


Treatment of an Oversize Rare Book: Research and Decisions on Rebinding (Pre-program Student Paper)

Evelyn Mayberger, Intern, National Museum of the American Indian; Betty Fiske, Historic Odessa Foundation; Michelle Biddle, Olin Library, Wesleyan University; Abigail Quandt, Walters Art Museum

Problem: Cosimo Bartoli’s book The Architecture of Leon Batista Alberti, in Ten Books, of Painting, in Three Books, and of Statuary in One Book was in poor condition and required stabilization. With this opportunity at hand, pre-program intern Evelyn Mayberger worked with Betty Fiske at the Historic Odessa Foundation to research the history of the book before treatment.

Treatment: Evelyn visited several collections to learn about the types of bindings used for this book, and how conservators had approached their treatment decisions. After consulting with Abigail Quandt and Michelle Biddle, Evelyn and Betty spent a total of 462 hours on the treatment of the book, including washing, tape removal, sun bleaching, mends and infills, guarding, sewing, lining and board covering (!) Oversized plates that had been sewn into the binding were restored to fold outs, and the binding was returned to what Evelyn deemed historically appropriate.

Results: It was discovered that all editions of the book had been re-bound, and most contained 6-7 sewing stations. Also of note, the first edition was printed in parallel Italian and English, which caused later editions to include all plates facing recto.


For more notes on these talks, and others, please visit Preservation & Conservation Administration News.