45th Annual Meeting – Photographic Materials Session, May 30, “Moonlight and Midnight: The evolution of Edward Steichen’s ‘Moonrise’ prints” by Kaslyne O’Connor, Ariel Pate, and Sylvie Pénichon

This talk was a good example of collaborative art historical and material science research. Two of the three authors, Kaslyne O’Connor and Ariel Pate, discussed a study that revolved around two gum-platinum prints by Edward Steichen from his 1904 “Moonrise” series in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago that had titles and dates under question. Each print had been referred to by different names (“Midnight Lake George” and “Moonlight Lake George“), and varied in tonality and surface sheen (you will notice that the prints have the same titles and dates on the Art Institute of Chicago website). Furthermore, the image in one of the prints is flipped horizontally.

A letter from Steichen to Stieglitz talks about “Midnight Lake George” being a platinum print followed by blue print, then greenish gum varnish. This letter is a valuable piece of information, along with X-Ray Fluorescence and Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy that gave characteristic signals for Prussian blue, platinum (“Midnight…” had more), palladium, mercury (traces in “Midnight…” only), chromium, iron (“Moonlight…” had more), and lead for both prints. Still to be determined is the distribution of Prussian blue throughout the print, which would suggest the cyanotype process vs. a Prussian blue watercolor wash over the entire surface of the print. Clip marks at the print edges did displace the gum layer, thus revealing a blue layer below, which could be a hint that the cyanotype process was used. Examination of “Midnight…” under ultraviolet light exhibited a green fluorescents characteristic of linseed oil.

A Camera Works supplement from 1906 refers to “Moonlight…”. A 1910 Albright Art Gallery catalog for the “International Exhibition of Pictorial Photography” refers to “Moonlight…” having been made using a platinum gum process “peculiarly [Steichen’s] own”. Ultimately, a timeline was proposed by the authors using the information gathered from this research, which supports the 1904 (“Midnight…”) and 1909 (“Moonlight…”) printing dates for each. More apt titles were also proposed–”Road to the Valley, Moonrise” for “Midnight…” and “Road to the Valley, Moonrise Lake George” for “Moonlight”. Something that was noted that I found to be particularly interesting was that Steichen became less “poetic” in his later years, and retitled many of his prints.

Also to note, this project was born out of a previous project to create the website The Alfred Stieglitz Collection, a rich resource recommended to visit.

45th Annual Meeting – Photographic Materials Session, May 30, “The Fiocruz Collections: Discussing the Preservation of its Photographic Archives” by Nathália Vieira Serrano

Nathália Vieira Serrano’s talk focussed on the “incorporation” and “disincorporation” (accessioning/deaccessioning) of archival documents in the Department of Archives and Documentation at Casa de Oswaldo Cruz, in Fundação Oswaldo Cruz, in Rio de Janeiro. She discussed the overarching framework that was developed to help guide decisions of accessioning and deaccessioning collection materials, and then as a case study, the application of this framework to a specific collection–a collection of history of science of public health. This collection consists of glass plate negatives, roll and sheet film, all by various photographers and on different themes including, history, health education, scientific divulgation, and life sciences. A survey determined that the images were still in good shape, as were their supports.

The talk was a nice example of the challenges staff in the world of preservation face when needing to determine what can stay and what needs to go, the many factors to consider, and the criteria and prioritization to establish when making such important decisions. Serrano mentioned the mission of Casa de Oswaldo Cruz, the difference between multidisciplinary vs transdisciplinary, and the different stakeholders (researchers, collection managers, and potential current and future interested parties) that are taken into account. She also referred to Salvador Muñoz Viñas writings on contemporary theory of conservation and his statement that conservation is not a neutral act.

I appreciate how it is difficult to convey fully in a 20-25 minute talk the complexity of these types of projects. There are so many interesting points to think about, large and small, and people from different points of interest that are part of the decision making process. If there is one area I would have been interested in learning more about, it was some similarities and differences in their approach when compared to other national and international institutions. The presentation also gave insight to a large collection in Rio de Janeiro, how it is stored, and the building and environment that surrounds it.

Two questions that were asked after the talk were:

  • Is cost considered when deciding whether or not to deaccession? Answer: The survey is still underway, but cost will likely be considered.
  • What is the size of the collection? Answer: Still to be determined. (But an image was shown of the storage area the collection takes up)