FAIC Collaborative Workshop ‘The Treatment of Pressure-Sensitive Tapes and Tape Stains on Photographs’

In Nov/Dec 2011 I attended this 5-day workshop, held at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. The two main instructors, Elissa O’Loughlin and Linda Stiber Morenus, have an incredible wealth of knowledge, buoyed by their ongoing research and, it seems, genuine fascination for the topic. Barbara Lemmen and Douglas Nishimura were also on hand to provide the necessary expertise to give the paper-focussed workshop model a photographic slant. With only 14 participants and 4 instructors it was a fairly intimate group with plenty of opportunities for one-on-one or small group tuition which was really beneficial. We began by learning the basics of adhesion and then the specifics of rubber-based and synthetic polymer-based pressure-sensitive tapes, including their invention and evolution and the degradation of their components. By the end of the first day we were sorting through mounds of different tapes, trying to identify their type and degree of degradation (see Image 1). By the second day we had moved on to mechanical carrier and adhesive removal, focussing initially on heat and erasers, then on to Gore-Tex, poultices, solvent gels and immersion. The use of an eye dropper and micro-capillary tube for delivering solvent on the suction table was remarkably successful on albumen prints (see Image 2). Processes such as salted paper and albumen were found to be quite responsive to a variety of techniques for adhesive removal, such as poulticing with Fuller’s Earth and suction table work, however there was concern about the possible effects on a microscopic level. Naturally, problems were encountered with chromogenic prints, with colour shifts occurring beneath tape and the sensitivity of the dye layers being an issue.

I found the workshop worthwhile for a number of reasons. I learnt new techniques and about equipment and tools of which I’d never heard or thought to use in this way (a bassoon reed for lifting tape carriers was particularly novel). I think everyone appreciated the lecture on the Teas chart, which was a brief but effective introduction to the use of solvents as an aid to tape and tape stain removal. There was discussion about the lack of research into the effects of solvents and local treatment on photographic materials, with difficulties related to the reproducibility of manufactured objects and the compartmentalised and secretive nature of the photographic industry cited as huge obstacles.

The location of the workshop was superb. The area is beautiful and serene and the Center is equipped with excellent facilities (see Image 3). I found it the perfect setting for intensive learning. My attendance at the workshop was made possible by contributions from my employer, The Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation and University of Melbourne Commercial. I was also granted a scholarship from the FAIC/NEH. The support was much appreciated and I hope to make good use of the information and skills learnt.