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History, Conservation, and Repair The history of photographic prints, and how best to care for and repair them.

Retouching Originals

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Old 02-01-2002, 01:43 AM
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Lampy Lampy is offline
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Talking preservation, conservation, restoration or digital many choices...

We could go round and round about this. I'm pretty sure we've covered the problems of using digital formats as replacements for originals in another thread...I just can't find it. Bad idea at this point in the evolution of technology.

I do agree with Jim and I said it in an earlier post it's all about education. I think most conservators would say they spend a lot of their time on the phone, in person, on e-mail, and in message boards like this one trying to educate anyone who will listen about preservation issues. I always tell people if they want to get the most bang for their buck preservation is the way to go. Buy museum quality storage enclosures and boxes, improve the storage environment, avoid attics, basements, outer walls, pests and potential sources of water damage.

But to go back to Tom's question about why do touch ups on the originals when digital quality is so good. Well I disagree that it is that great. Remember everytime we make a copy we loose information and that applies to scans and digital photography too. There is often a color shift and dust showing up among other problems. It's certainly not a perfect process giving perfect images.

The thing that I find most clients don't like about the digital process is the end result. The tactile quality of a print out or a resin coated print (especially the glossy ones) is no where near the same as the look and feel of a vintage print. It's not just about having a copy of a pretty picture for some people but having the artifact, the history and the beauty of the original.

Damage is part of the history of the piece but at the same time I can understand a family's wish to have their long lost relative whole again. It is always a balancing act to find the right solution for both the piece and the owner. There is no blanket solution for all problems.

I'd also like to think that if the piece is coming to a trained conservator who has studied available techniques, has the skills, and knowledge to choose the right treatments that damage to an original will be rare. Part of a conservator's code of ethics it to keep up with the literature and basically never stop being the student, never stop learning the newest techniques available that have been tested for stability amoung other thing. Again I will stress that retouching or doing any kind of treatment (for example cleaning, tape removal etc.) should be left to those with training and experience.

In response to the comment "...actually trying to restore it by the process of what amounts to drawing on it with materials which have nothing in common with the photolytic or filimentary silver which comprise the original image, and may actually cause further and more rapid deterioration."

I would say using removable materials that are different than the composition of the original image would be considered a good thing. The new material is not trying to pass off as part of the original and can be identified more easily to future conservation professionals. If something that is removable is chosen than the option is available in th efuture to remove the toning/inpainting. I do agree that these materials will not provide a perfect match but than that's not what I go for. In a past thread I talked about toning to blend rather than inpainting to deceive. And I wouldn't call it drawing on a photograph that's usually another kind of damage I see a lot of!

Tom I think you've opened a kettle of fish! This could be a fun discussion.

Well I'm tired and can't think of anything else to add right now,

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Old 02-01-2002, 03:57 AM
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Doug Nelson Doug Nelson is offline
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Personally, I think my matte inkjet prints have a lovely vintage feel. That's one of the reasons I chose that medium.

I view the original as holy. So, aside from steps needed for conservation, I feel it should be left as pristine as possible.
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Old 02-01-2002, 07:25 AM
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thomasgeorge thomasgeorge is offline
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At one time, and not all that long ago, the quality of digital was pretty poor.. however, I would respectfully submit that this is no longer the case. The key to obtaining a a high quality scan and consequent reproduction for dissemination via various mediums is high quality equipment, operator expertise and a thorough knowledge of the digital domain, as it were. High res./High bit digital scans are, if done properly, better than a copy photo taken by traditional methods, as copy photography always degrades the image to a greater degree than a high quality scan does, as CCD's or photomultiplier tubes are magnitudes of degrees more sensitive than film..even the hypered variety. This was shown by some research done by the Image Permenance Institute in a study on digital archiving. I am not dismissing traditional methods, as I strongly feel that conventional and digital can and indeed should work together. But consider that by making physical alterations to an original photo one may, and quite probably is, doing some degree of harm which, unless done to prevent further accelerated damage, perhaps should be approached with extreme caution. Take routine cleaning...increased cracking, loss of gloss ( in the case of the albumen photo the gloss is what attracted so much public excitement as the ealier salt paper prints were more matte), also, the layer of oxidation products which form a thin film over the top of the image layer may well act as a barrier to prevent the diffusion of oxygen into the image bearing layer thus slowing down the oxidative/reductive deterioration of the photo. Also, as in the case of the albumen photo, due to the way in which the senistization was done, the photolytic silver is not dispersed through the binder layer in an homogenous manner--photomicrographs from Electron microscopy studies have shown that the image bearing photolytic silver layer is fairly close to the top of the image layer.Just where cleaning takes place. The moisture from cleaning softens the top layer, rendering it more permeable to the diffusion of atmospheric contaminant gasses, while the moisture can react with residual sulfur compounds to accelerate image decomposition. Actually painting or drawing on the original opens a real problem as regards chemical interaction with the material applied and the binder layer and the manner of deterioration of the applied material with times passing and the interaction of the applied material with airborn contaminants. The laws of Chemistry, especially organic are, as yet, not completely understood and the components making up the binder layer of gelatin and Albumen photos react in strange ways due to their complex molecular make up, Many changes not advancing to a visually detectable stage for years.
I also must respectfully disagree about " a can of worms". Preservation of our photographic history, both the original process artifacts and readily avaliable copys which can rapidly be altered for transmission by various methods, is now possible and very desirable. Rather that threaten the established field of Preservation and Restoration, the digital revolution has the potential to greatly expand it as photos once ignored are now brought in to be " worked on ". It is simply a matter of adding a knowledge of things digital to the established avocation of Restoration/Conservation and then applying them together.
I think what is emerging is the realization that there are now two distinct but not necessarily mutually exclusive lines here... One is the recognition of the extreme value of the original photo as a cultural artifact and a priceless historic process artifact which must be preserved in as close to original form as possible, with minimal manipulation ( and that restricted to only vital repairs), and Two the need to preserve the image data/information captured by the original in such a way as to allow for retouching and dissemination of the reproduced photo from a digital master, to any number of different visual media. The misconception that digital isnt capable of this, is just that, a misconception. The public embraces, by in large, the digital advantage. Somehow, the traditional and digital schools of thought must come together and work in mutual cooperation or I fear many fine and very importiant photos now residing in obscurity will deteriorate and be lost forever. Just my rambling thoughts... Tom

Last edited by thomasgeorge; 02-01-2002 at 07:39 AM.
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Old 02-01-2002, 08:58 AM
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Lampy Lampy is offline
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Hi again:

Well I only have time to say a couple of words this morning and will have to come back to it later to read through Tom's lengthy paragraph.

What I ment about kettle of fish (or can of worms as you say) is that it was an interesting topic that I thought a lot of people would have an opinion about and so far that seems to be the case.

Tom, I don't deny that digital imaging is getting really really good because it is. But just out of curiousity who is using the really high end equipment? I'm not and I doubt too many using this site are either. Even the NEH funded project for the state of Colorado which provides "scanning centers" for all of the libraries, archives and museums who are involved in the project don't. Scanning is done by volunteers and the scanners are not much better than the best scanner you can find at the local computer store or office depot (not to mention they are a couple years old now). I asked the project coodinator about the quality of the scans and was told at this point in time the project can not be about preservation because they don't have the money, the equipment or the storage capability and that it was solely about providing access to collections. So although the technology is coming along it may not be within the grasp for the average shop for sometime. I can't wait til it is though!

Until it does I don't think we should stop scanning I just think we may scan again. And certainly we should keep our originals incase we don't keep up with technology. It is a daunting task to think of the thousands of digital images and hours of time I will need to convert all of my files to a new format if and when technology changes.

Regarding in your words your ramblings on Albumen prints this is a well know problem with this print type and cleaning of an albumen is never just done without regard to it's current condition. In fact any treatment must be justified before proceeding. That is why asthetic repairs are sometimes not done especially in institutional collections because other than the appearance it has not improved it's preservation. Treatment of a piece is never entered into lightly and without trying to explain the pros and cons to the owner...including long term results. But this is the real world and as I've said before it is a bit of a juggling act between the piece and what the client wants. In fact I'd say more often than not I persuade clients to go the digital route with pieces that need asthetic improvements. They can get what they want, even fix up some flaws or things they don't like in the picture, change the overall tone, and even frame it and expose it to light all they want. But there are some who won't settle for the appearance of the modern print or have other reasons for the conservation of the original and I try to respect that if I can't sway them with a little education. But even if I respect a clients opinion I still have the right to refuse the work if they request me to do something I feel is unethical or will harm the piece.

I may be a conservator but I also provide digital restoration services and often combine the two. The conservation of the original so the piece can be preserved into the future and the digital to provide a) a whole picture b) multiple copies (digital and print). Often I will do the conservation work prior to scanning and digital clean up to provide the best possible scan. An example of this is a sepia toned wedding portrait that came in with losses, stains, mold and paint on the surface and so on. (If I can figure out how to attach two pictures I might include them). Rather than just scanning the piece and having to imagine what parts of the faces looked like the piece was treated to remove the mold, paint and other disfiguring materials. Now I had an almost complete piece to scan and the piece could be preserved without fear that mold might reoccur or the materials on the surface would accelerate the deterioration of the emulsion and image silver.

So I certainly think that there is a place for preservation, conservation, restoration and digital restoration to live in harmony. And choosing wisely and sometimes even combining these things can produce an even better end result for everyone/everything involved.

Ok that was a bit longer than planned but now I've gotta run and get back to the real world.

Have a great day all!

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Old 02-01-2002, 09:45 AM
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Jim Conway Jim Conway is offline
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Here's to the buckets full of self destructing prints!

Call it a bucket of worms - or just getting into a friendly debate, I'm game if I can get my concerns addressed. I covered the unlikelihood of "master digitals" for what I might guess will be more than 99% of all existing photos today before they self destruct ...and I also questioned "proper storage" as a viable solution to preservation for the same 99% of our existing photos. Who's idea of proper storage and who pays?

I have to end the "hypotheticals" that I'll have enough time to participate in when it comes to "drawing" on the originals. Like the other challenges offered for practice - I think it might be best to stick to Case Studies and look for the professionalism in the responses, question the specifics if you disagree with the chemical formulas used if you know anything about chemistry or question the techniques applied if you understand them and think they are wrong or don't understand them and want to know more. I'm in full agreement with digital retouching and storage as being essential tools in today's world or I wouldn't be participating here - but I'm not going to scan a photo that has bubble gum stuck all over it without cleaning it first either!

One of the jobs in the shop now is a 3x4 ft. framed natural color photo of two children that was dry mounted on foamcore. It is starting to fade but not too bad yet. The problem is a 3/4 inch cut in it about a 1/16 of an inch wide and about the same depth caused by a bump against something when he moved it.. The client could not (or does not want to pay the price of a copy and duplicate print in that size) So, I'm going to fill that gouge with some gelatin and "draw" on it with a touch of matching photo acrylic paint (sold by Veronica Cass Photographic Arts) and hand it back to the client for a grand total of $65.00 for about 20 minutes of my actual working time. The client knows that his original is a goner (fade) in a few years when he puts it back on display in his family room but wants to enjoy it now. Two other photo shops told him it couldn't be done. Any recommendations that will offer him a better alternative than I have?

And Doug, there is no doubt that you can create great looking fakes - probably someday you will even be able to clone the original down to the cotton fibers in the paper - that's why I said that our attempts at preservation are "works in progress" for future generations not an end product.

Maybe the guy with the color print I've mentioned here will decide in five or six years to go for a duplicate made on a large printer from some Reprographics Shop that will be near perfect (before the fade rate exceeds the acrylic fill) At least he will have that option now, he said if he couldn't get it fixed, he was going toss it in the trash - it won't get tossed now and that's why I love this line of work!

Jim Conway
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Old 02-01-2002, 10:43 AM
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thomasgeorge thomasgeorge is offline
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Proper storage protocols are well established and practiced by such institutions as the Smithsonian and a few others, as are proper display techniques. Ultimately it is the choice of the owner of the photo as to what, if any, precautions should be taken, but that doesnot excuse us from offering advice on what is proven to be efficatious in the preservation realm.
Nothing I have mentioned is in the realm of the hypothetical. These are questions which need to be explored and answers found for. I am not unfamiliar with chemistry..inorganic, organic and bio. Call it the sign of a mis-directed youth who went to college..
The facts are that the complex organic molecules which make up gelatin and albumen photo binder layers react in fuzzy and in some cases unknown ways to the addition of other substances and extreme caution in treating these photos is all I am advocating...there will always be a need to properly clean photos which have sustained severe damage such as chewing gum, floods, sewer line breaks, smoke damage etc.., no doubt of that. It is vital that these skills be preserved, but the idea that somehow digital storage is not accurate is simply not true. Astronomy is now conducted with digital imaging because it is faster, more accurate and easier to transmit data than conventional film methods, which suffer from reciprocity failure, thus limiting its usefulness.
Again, there are two lines here...preservation of the original as a cultural and historic process artifact and preservation of the image this document contains. Digital allows for the "freezing" of the image with no further deterioration and the manner of its display is of less consiquence than the information that image transmits. As the technology continues to improve and the software dedicated to imaging evolves many of the objections and reservations about this form of image storage will be laid to rest. Digital is here to stay. Copying info from one storage medium to another is not really an issue any more than copying data from tape, to 5 inch floppies, to 3 inch floppies to CD is. Technology overlaps, allowing such transfers to be accomplished without major headaches.
Again though, ultimate decision as regards the fate of any given photo is up to the owner and the restorer/preservation expert can either choose to accept or not accept the job; but it also importiant for those of us who work in the digital arena to be able to give knowledgable advice to our clients and refer them to conservators if necessary. Tom
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