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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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  #1  
Old 01-23-2002, 07:49 AM
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thomasgeorge thomasgeorge is offline
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Retouching Originals

I am wondering about the advisability of doing actual retouching work on original photos. While the work when first done is no doubt first rate and faithful to the original photo in tone, etc.,, What happens when with the passing of time the original image continues to fade, as is inevitable at this time, no process yet having been developed to halt the deteriorative processes. Do the retouched areas fade at the same rate as the original image or are you left with an overall faded image area with darker areas where the retouching material was applied, and how do you compensate for that? Thanks, Tom
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Old 01-23-2002, 09:40 AM
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DJ Dubovsky DJ Dubovsky is offline
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I never considered that. That's a good question and one I'm fastinated to hear comments on. I know I don't have the answers. I'm glad I don't have to make that decision in my line of work.
DJ
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Old 01-23-2002, 09:40 PM
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Excellent question Tom. Although I don't have the answers, it does seem that if a retouched print were left in a state where further deterioration takes place, retouched areas would probably not fade at the same rate as the rest of the print. Maybe Jim Conway would be able to provide some answers on this interesting question.

Ed
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Old 01-23-2002, 10:32 PM
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DJ Dubovsky DJ Dubovsky is offline
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I remember Heather mentioning there was a big difference between conservation and retouching. I think she actually leans more toward the conservation side where it's repair and cleaning to damaged areas but not actually touching up the image.
DJ
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Old 01-28-2002, 11:43 PM
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Jim Conway Jim Conway is offline
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I remember reading Heathers posts and thought they were very well thought out. If you are working with something that is of exceptional value, you don't take avoidable risks and "reversibility" is the key word.

That's an objective however - and it's not etched in stone in a court of last resort! Chemical restoration, in my opinion, is a good example of a last resort technique in bringing back an image that is too faint for a decent job. If it can be done and salvage the image, it should be done. (note I said last resort again) Many times the photo will fade back again but in the meantime you've had an opportunity to copy or scan one that would have been a total loss and make it quite presentable.

I have no hesitation deacidifying and dry mounting an old photo if the state of deterioration is such that it's crumbling and I know it will not last out the decade. Why wait when you know it won't be done unless you do it now? Again, these things are judgment calls based on the artifact in front of you.

As far as art work is concerned, it has always been a part of this business. Spotting and touchups, unless done on the negative, don't fade or deteriorate on the same timetable as the materials and never have. I have a natural color photo in the shop where someone darkened the girl blue eyes - now nearly everything else is gone except those blue eyes - and I've often seen the reverse of that, even in early Daguerreotypes, where the hand coloring has faded but the images are still strong.

I would never let that factor stop me from improving the work if I can. First, I'd use materials that are known to be stable and not going to cause further damage of any kind. Second, I'd assume that true restoration is not a "one time thing". If the work you do extends the life of the artifact and makes the piece something to be prized as a valued keepsake, it's more likely to be handled with a great deal of care. and third, if you make it more valuable now, it will be there for another restorer to touch up again long after most of us are gone!

In other words Tom, look at it as a "work in progress" for generations to come, not as an end product when you are done.

Jim Conway
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Old 01-31-2002, 04:35 PM
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Hi again!
Well I just had to jump in and be a part of the conversation! I actually do do a lot of inpainting and touch up on original pieces. In the private conservation business it is a juggling act of preservation, conservation and restoration. Most clients come in the door with the request "make it look good". Part of my job is to educate them into understanding that it's not just a matter of looking better but taking steps to preserve the piece into the future. Part of the reason they want it to look good is because the care wasn't there in the first place. Anyway as I always seem to do I'm rattling on.

I'd like to just elaborate on two thing Jim said. The first was regarding reversibility of treatments. (Actually I have a problem with that term because not everything in conservation or restoration is reversible. The example a fellow conservator used when explaining this view to me for the first time was with cleaning. A cleaning treatment can never really be reversible because you can't very well put the dirt back on or at least not the same type and amount. Not that you would want to but I'm sure everyone gets the point she was trying to make. I rather use the term "removable" meaning that things that are added to the piece should be removable in the future and not harm the piece in the long term). Anyway nit-picking aside....

Jim said "look at it as a "work in progress" for generations to come, not as an end product when you are done." If you use appropriate toning/inpainting materials, and the piece fades but the inpainting doesn't it would be possible in the future (in theory) to remove the inpainting and start again inpainting with lighter tones. But this is just theory, as we well know even watercolors become less soluble over time and this is one of the many inpainting mediums that a conservator uses that are so called reversible/removable.

So I guess my point is choose your retouching materials very carefully and try to pick those that will be reversible/removable in the future over those that are permenent.

Cheers!

--Heather
www.tudhope.net
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Old 01-31-2002, 06:16 PM
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Jim Conway Jim Conway is offline
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Red face

Glad to see you back in here - and, of course you are right about reversals - I've never had a client ask me to put the dirt back on the photo either!

Jim Conway
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Old 01-31-2002, 07:40 PM
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thomasgeorge thomasgeorge is offline
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Thanks Jim and Heather for your insights. I am curious though about the need or advisability for doing anything other than preservation type work on an original as the advances in digital technology now allow for capture of excellent quality high res/ high bit scans to serve as digital masters for reproduction prints which can be retouched any way the customer desires without altering or possibly inadvertently damaging the original, which as a cultural and historic process artifact, is truly a priceless item. I am probably wrong in my assumption but it seems to me that with this capability as regards very high quality digital storage/reproduction now avaliable, doing anything to an original other than that which is necessary to ensure its continued existance in as good a shape as possible and directing efforts more towards the proper storage and limited display of the photo so as preserve it in as close to original condition as possible while slowing down the inevitable deteriorative processes, makes more sense than 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. Am I wrong in this assumption? It just seems as though the quantum leaps which have taken place in digital technology over the past 5 years are pointing to the need to re- evaluate the traditional processes once used in photo restoration, not to do away with them, but to enhance the entire field. Thanks in advance for your inputs. Tom
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Old 01-31-2002, 11:21 PM
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Jim Conway Jim Conway is offline
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Hi Tom ... your interest in digital may make some of what I can say a hard sell, but I'll give it a go! :-) OK with you if I break my response in several parts for the sake of time and tackle digital conversions then storage and save "drawing" on the photos for another day? Bet we could go 24/7 for a month and not cover one one hundredth of it!

You said that digital "allows for" - but that objective is seldom achieved. Suitable scanners of sufficient quality for "masters" are unaffordable by even the midsize museums and certainly beyond the reach of any local historical society that I've ever encountered. What about 3D scans? Many of the photos I work on wouldn't even fit in a flatbed and you can't put them on a drum! Even if everyone could afford the work stations involved for this type of conversion, who would do the work? Most of the preservation in this country is in the hands of volunteers that are certainly not qualified computer experts. Most of the work I do for the local historical societies is pro-bono and I feel I can do more with lectures than I can working on the artifacts so I take that route whenever possible. Part of the lecture is "don't donate photo collection unless you are willing to put some money with it - preservation is not free!"

What is right in text book theory is not really valid in a world where millions of photos are self-destructing and the need is for practical approaches for our local museums, libraries, historical societies and family archivists. I'm thrilled when someone is willing to invest anything in their collections, even if it's only the time it takes to document them because most will do nothing.

To meet even simple objectives like using acid free storage boxes without an infusion of cash is difficult! When someone raises the issue of "proper storage" - do we maintain humidity and temperatures at the optimum for paper products, for plastic, for photo CD's - it's not the same for everything and again, who pays for all of this? Hollywood Vaults web site offers a lot more information on what is needed - http://www.hollywoodvaults.com/indexhv.html and their preservation links will take you to a maze of products offered by suppliers for preservation products and supplies.

There are so many problems in real world terms I don't know where to start - but just to give you some idea of this magnitude, here's one example. (I pulled this one because I see you were with the FD?) I was doing some research on fire protection a few years ago and found that the safes that were being sold under the Kodak label were, in my opinion, totally unsuitable for storing photos or negatives. They were being sold in nearly all major stores in the country and it stated on both the packaging and the product that they were UL approved for the purpose but my research led to disproving that although the manufacture is still claiming otherwise. Bottom line, Kodak no longer has their name on the fire safes - a decision made at board level after my report. But the real question is - How many people have their film or photo CD's stored in those home safes ..and how do we get them out of there because believe me, even the negative inserts that were provided are damaging but the people that own them still think it's "proper storage"!

So, I think I look at these things in light of what I get into in real life and sometimes people will not see the advice as the "right way" in terms of idealistic or certain authors but it can be an effective way in the field and that's where I've hung my hat.

Jim Conway
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Old 02-01-2002, 12:54 AM
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Tom,

I'd just like to point out some of the downsides of digital storage. First, CD's are not forever. Estimated life for top quality CD-R like the Kodak Ultima are on the order of 100-150 years. That is the top end, most people buy the cheapest CDs they can find. That however, is not worst problem.

I have a box I use for storing papers. It is special to me because it brings back memories of my first "real" job. It is an 8" floppy box. I don't have any 8" floppy disks, and if I did where would I read them? I think I have some QIC-80 tapes too. The drive to read them is in a drawer somewhere, but probably wouldn't be compatable with current operating systems.

What I'm getting at, is that digital media becomes obsolete at a very rapid pace. It takes dedication keep archives on currently readable media. I understand the National Archives has gotten itself in trouble with this already, with thousands of documents on media they can't read anymore. How long before CDs are not readable with a standard home computer? Probably not that long.

So what is the solution. One book I have recommends making color separations on archivally developed black and white film (large format of course). Black and white negatives have a proven track record of long life and inherant readability...

Personally I just hope I can keep updating my collection to whatever is current. I have too many to even consider making separations...

--tks
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