42nd Annual Meeting – Photographic Materials Session, May 31, “Technical Research on The Diane Arbus Archive” by Janka Krizanova

Janka Krizanova’s fascinating talk on her work with the Diane Arbus Archives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City provided an overview of the first eight months of her two-year-long research scholarship. The Diane Arbus Archives contains 600 vintage prints, 800 work prints, 6,200 rolls of film, 6,500 contact sheets, and the artist’s library and equipment. Krizanova’s goals for the project are to characterize the materials in the archive, assess the stability of materials in the collection, create a long term plan for the preservation of the archives, and create guidelines for the exhibition of materials in the collection.
In her research, Krizanova examined:
• technical and historical literature on 20th century photography
• manuals and books of samples of photographic papers issued by the industry (in addition to Paul Messier’s Historic Photographic Papers Collection)
• other characterization studies, such as that on the Thomas Walther Collection at the Museum of Modern Art
Krizanova began her study by conducting a survey of the collection. She found that Arbus’ body of contact prints had the widest variety of photographic processes and the most varied condition states. Arbus worked primarily with silver gelatin prints, but also utilized the stabilization process for contact sheets and temporary proofs, as these prints were much faster to process than silver gelatin prints. However, they were not designed to be long lasting.

An image from Krizanova’s talk: an advertisement for “The Kodak Ektamatic 214 Processor”. The image was scanned from a postcard, purchased by Krizanova from: http://www.delcampe.net/page/item/id,0224814815,language,E.html

Stabilization prints are made by using a special photographic paper with an incorporated developer. Arbus used Kodak Ektamatic Paper (boxes of which are housed in the archives). A negative in an enlarger is used to expose the paper, which is then fed into the processer. It first passes through an alkali bath, which activates the developer in the paper. The paper then moves directly into an acidic stabilization solution, which complexes the unexposed silver. This silver is “stabilized”, but not fixed. The whole process is over in a matter of seconds. In addition to describing this photographic process, Krizanova discussed the intriguing condition issues seen in the collection, including spotting, darkening, lightening caused by applied pressure, and discoloration even when stored in an ambient room environment. Krizanova is working on establishing a set of terms to describe the condition issues presented.
The technical characterization of some of the silver gelatin and stabilization prints will involve:
• Measuring paper thickness
• Documenting printing on the verso
• Microscopic documentation of the surface texture
• XRF in the D-max and D-min areas
• UV examination
• Paper fiber sampling
• Spectrophotometric measurements
• Microfadometer readings
Krisanova has begun the first four categories of characterization. I really look forward to hearing the results of her work and her characterizations of the interesting and complicated condition issues seen in the stabilization prints.
Here are two excellent questions asked (and answered) at the end, loosely paraphrased:
Q: Will you fix and wash the stabilization prints?
A: No, they are to be preserved as is.
Q: Would you consider freezing the stabilization prints in an attempt to preserve them?
A: No one is doing that right now, as far as anyone knows. Currently, it is not an option for us, but we will certainly address this question again later in the study.