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Getty Conservation Institute releases a critical new resource for conserving historic photographs
Research on the Conservation of Photographs.
LOS ANGELES, CA.- Scientists at the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) in Los Angeles have released the first installment of The Atlas of Analytical Signatures of Photographic Processes. Available online, this initial publication of the Atlas—which will be continually updated—provides detailed scientific information on eleven of the most common and important black-and-white photographic processes and process variants (about fifty). The publication can be accessed at no charge at www.getty.edu/conservation.

Photograph conservators, art historians, archivists, library professionals, and anyone responsible for the care and preservation of photograph collections will find important information and tools for the identification of photographic processes in the Atlas. In addition to serving as a significant resource for the analysis of photographs, the Atlas captures and re-assembles critical information regarding these historic processes that is at great risk of being lost during these waning days of traditional chemical, or analogue, photography.

The Atlas is a product of a decade-long GCI project to develop innovative research methodologies for scientific analysis and identification of more than 150 different photographic processes (and process variants) that were invented, advanced, and sometimes forgotten during the nearly 200-year-long chemical photography era.

Well-known examples of all these photographic processes exist among the millions of photographs housed in art museums, archives, libraries, and private collections. However, the processes by which many of these photographs were created have remained unknown or have been misidentified, contributing to incorrect descriptions of the objects. Such misinformation also threatens the long-term preservation of this photographic heritage because proper identification of photographs is essential in specifying appropriate conditions for light exposure during an exhibition, long-term storage conditions, or safe methods of conservation treatment.

“The Atlas is the first photograph conservation research publication that integrates historical information and ‘inside the darkroom’ techniques of practicing photographers with modern scientific and analytical technology,” said Dusan Stulik, a senior scientist at the GCI who has been working on the Atlas with GCI researcher Art Kaplan. “These advanced methods of identifying photographic processes and photographs go well beyond what can be achieved with standard visual and microscopic inspection. In addition, they provide an objective foundation for current and future historical research of photographs.”

The Atlas also was created to establish a powerful knowledge bridge between the photograph conservation and conservation science communities. Few photograph conservation laboratories or private photograph conservators have easy access to well-equipped conservation science laboratories with scientists experienced in the analysis and identification of photographs. However, many conservators have access to university or industrial laboratories that could perform the needed analysis if guidance were provided regarding the interpretation of results. It is hoped that The GCI Atlas will stimulate exchange and communication between scientists and conservators when jointly tackling analytical questions regarding a photograph’s material composition and the process by which it was produced.

Future installments and periodic updates to the Atlas will include additional photographic processes, as well as new information about processes already contained in the publication. The aim of GCI scientists is to make the Atlas a comprehensive reference of well-researched, experimentally tested, and objective data on the photographic processes and important process variants of the chemical photography era.

The Atlas is currently available as a series of PDFs on the GCI website. In the future, the GCI hopes to make it available in an interactive format that allows for querying, manipulation, and interpretation. The GCI is seeking feedback from the community of Atlas users to determine the most useful media format.





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