I had an exciting start to my internship at the Center for Creative Photography. In just three days I’ve learnt a lot about treatment assessment, process identification, and conservation policy.
I shadowed my advisor Jae and got to see how she assesses pieces for treatment before they go on display. I was thrilled to be able to see Ansel Adams’s Moonrise up close. I learnt how the CCP keeps track of their collection. The format being: Year acquired. Acquisition number. Piece. For example, the Center purchases several pieces from an artist for their collection. The year is 2017. The acquisition number is the number given to the method of storage, like a box, by collections management. Then the piece is assigned a number based on it’s placement in that box. So a piece is identified by 2017. 1. 3. That means it was acquired in 2017, it is stored in box 1, and it is the third object in that box.
I also learnt that there is a distinction between the collection and the archives. While a curator can pull from both, the collection is what is monitored more closely while the archival pieces may be unspecified. For example, Ansel Adams’s Moonrise has a specific number. His letters in the archive are most likely labeled with something like “Ansel Adams’s Letters” without any specification about who they are from or when they were written. For preservation and conversation purposes this is an important distinction to make. From my observations, the collection pieces are more likely to be assessed by the conservator for specific conservation recommendations. Meanwhile archival materials will be subject to more preventative care, such as environmental monitoring. I will actually be starting environment data collection next week.
I had the amazing opportunity to travel with Jae and a graduate intern to the Phoenix Art Museum for the annual lecture “The Ten Most Exciting Photographers I Learned About Last Year” as presented by Susan Bright. We arrived early and were able to look at the latest photography exhibit of self-published photo books. I highly recommend checking it out. The lecture itself was incredibly interesting. I love how Susan Bright approached photography from the process rather than the final image. For many of the photographers she named, it was the setup or the physical object that was being photographed rather than the image. For example, Ann Eder made a “moss monster” that is the subject of her photos. Or my favorite, Sigalit Landau’s Salt Bride, required the making of dresses that were then submerged in the Dead Sea and photographed underwater. She looks at photography in terms of objects and process. From my introduction this week, that’s the view of photography that the CCP strives for.
I was put to the task of process identification. In the photo above, the green sheet of paper has the unknown and the white paper has references for nine 19th Century photographic processes. It was my job to identify which process was used to create each photo. I found the easiest processes for me were matte collodion, albumen, platinum, and silver gelatin DOP. For matte collodion, the giveaway for me was the reddish-brown color and the style of dress. Albumen, found in egg whites, has a distinct way of yellowing as the photo ages. For platinum, I found that the orangey tint for image transferring, which is part of it’s deterioration, was a relatively good indicator. Silver gelatin developed-out prints (DOP) have deterioration in the form of silver particles migrating to the surface which creates a blueish shine to the darkest parts of the image. This is called “silver mirroring”.
Unlike the other processes I’ve named, platinum prints are just platinum and paper. Collodion, albumen, and gelatin are all binders. The photographic structure for them is emulsion layer (silver binder), baryta (depending on the time period), and then paper. Baryta is a white pigment and gelatin layer that allows highlights to be white rather than the paper’s natural color.
I had a lot of fun with this mini project/puzzle. After I had sorted them, Jae and I talked about the chemistry involved in each photographic process. We also discussed the chemistry involved in the deterioration of photographs. For example, silver mirroring happens when air pollution and moisture oxidize the silver in the image. This causes the silver ions to move to surface and be exposed to the atmosphere, which causes them to turn into collodion silver and silver sulfide. The collodion silver is what gives it the unique blueish shine. It’s also why only the darker parts of an image have this phenomena. Darker areas indicate a higher density of silver so it makes sense that silver ions would be most present there.
Well I’ll stop there and leave some things for my presentation in May. I’m really looking forward to learning more about photography and conservation at The CCP in the coming months.