As traditional photography processes are passing into history, George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film
and the Image Permanence Institute
(IPI) at Rochester Institute of Technology are launching a Center for the Legacy of Photography. The Center, made possible by a generous $2 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, will focus on collecting and sharing knowledge about photographic materials of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The goals of the Center for the Legacy of Photography are to articulate the importance of understanding silver halide photography, ensure the study of its uniqueness as a fine art and visual communication medium, and document its technology and materials. The Center will operate under the joint directorship of Grant Romer of Eastman House and James Reilly of IPI.
The Centers work will begin in September 2009 at the conclusion of the 10-year Advanced Residency Program in Photograph Conservation, which has transformed the field of photograph conservation internationally. That program also was a joint venture between Eastman House and IPI, directed by Romer and Reilly and funded by the Mellon Foundation, a long-standing supporter of photograph conservation worldwide. Both Eastman House and RIT are committed to raising the additional funds needed to ensure the sustainability of the Center.
A key focus of the Center is to create a clear distinction between digital imaging and silver halide photography. Since the technology of photography is rapidly changing, a line must be drawn between what photography is now and what it was, said Romer. The art of photography and the enormous archival record created by means of traditional photography represent a legacy that must be understood and preserved. As silver halide photography passes into history, with it will pass its industrial technology, its aesthetic and commercial context, and nearly all firsthand knowledge of its chemistry, materials, and processes. We must understand and define the ways in which the material nature of silver-based photographs differs from that of digital images and to make clear that the preservation and interpretation of the two pose distinctly different challenges, originating in different material and cultural contexts.
IPIs James Reilly stated, In the 21st century, photography has undergone two historic transitions. The old question of Is photography art? has been decisively answered by a vigorous art market, expanding galleries in major art museums and intense interest in every aspect of photographic masterpieces. At the same time, photography as a chemical technology using light-sensitive silver emulsions has given way to digital imaging, changing the materials, the working methods, and the aesthetics of photography in profound and lasting ways.
George Eastman House is the worlds oldest museum of photography and the first institution in the world to offer programs in photograph conservation. IPI, which has a 28-year history of research and development in the field of collection preservation, is the leading academic research laboratory devoted to the preservation of photographs, film, and other forms of recorded information.
The Centers staff at Eastman House will focus on the connoisseurship and fine-art research aspects, while staff at IPI will focus on scientific characterization methods to illustrate the physical nature of photographs.
Education and Research
The Center will create specialized information resources for teaching and learning about photographs and their preservation. It will directly inform the appreciation of photographs through a materials-based art history that unifies the technical and aesthetic understanding of photography. Its primary activities will include scientific and scholarly research, workshops and educational forums, and information sharing through a dedicated web site.
Research at the Center will document the material nature of photographs and will become a resource for connoisseurship by publishing an atlas of the visually observable characteristics of photographic masterpieces, along with detailed information about technique, identifying marks, conservation issues, biography, and critical appraisal. Significant works by noteworthy photographers that exist in multiple variations, often within Eastman House, will be examined in depth to reveal the cause-and-effect relationship between how a photograph was made, how it has aged, and how its specific technical characteristics are intrinsic to its aesthetic qualities. The connoisseurship research will incorporate associated information from scrapbooks, journals, institutional documentation, oral history tapes, and other primary documents.
The Center will develop the best ways to visually capture and represent the material aspects of photographic objects, with the goal of documentation and educational presentation. Key characteristics of photographic prints, such as process identity, layer structure, surface texture, sheen, and image structure, will be studied at many different magnifications and with a variety of lighting techniques.
As a leader in education and research, the Center will offer various workshops, in cooperation with graduate and undergraduate conservation programs. These workshops will cover characterization methods, issues in photograph authentication, print appreciation, and historic processes, as well as guided instruction on the making of photographs. A dedicated Center for the Legacy of Photography web site will promote the knowledge and activities of the Center and offer scholarly resources, access to original research, downloadable educational materials, and announcements of the Centers events and activities.