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  • Cleaning originals

    Regarding the cleaning of photographs...do you restrict this to only the gelatin prints or do you extend this to the albumin prints as well? It was my understanding based on a study done by Paul Messier and Timothy Vitale and reported in the Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, 1994 vol. 33 pp. 257-78, that any type of aqueous treatment of albumin photographs leads to increased cracking, both in the severity and amount, while doing basically nothing to remove the staining etc. these photos are subject to. I got the impression from reading this that cleaning of these type photos as a routine protocol was not necessarily a good idea. What are your views on this? Thanks, Tom

  • #2
    Your question on cleaning

    Wow serious subject! I been there before and know that the mention of "cleaning" can bring with it a barrage of decent from opinion based on academic study. Here is my slant on it
    I appreciate and deeply respect the people who are involved in most of these studies. Any that I read through the professional journals or publications from RIT, AIC or other credible sources, I will weigh along with everything else that I've ever read or know from personal experience. Unfortunately I've found that that respect is not always returned for those who are on the firing line doing the day to day work in actual conservation. Like medicine, you would never take anything if you followed every bit of documentation written.

    I would hope that the two sides can be brought closer with forums like this one dedicated to the Retouching Pro but open to people who have a foot in both worlds (so far at least)! Hopefully creating a new middle ground between those who need to learn that you don't clean photos with spiced up gasoline and those who think photos should be viewed with a fifteen watt light bulb not more often than once every 20 years or it will be the end of civilization as we know it..

    I had to smile when I read your post - the "aqueous treatment" the last batch of albumins I finished working on a few months back was from a drain overflow that came down from the floor above onto a work table with prints being laid out for cataloging. It went unnoticed for a week or more and they got a good soaking in sewer water! Nobody questioned techniques for cleaning at that point!

    I may get into more disaster recovery work than most restorers because I like the challenge of the work, but that job illustrates the point that - at the working level - decisions have to be based on the prints in front of you and applying the best of your knowledge along with common sense.
    A critical point in your post, if the treatment isn't going to do anything to remove the stains or contaminates, no, I wouldn't clean them, but that determination will be based on a check under a 30 power magnifier to see what if any emulsion breaks are there and then testing with a q-tip to see if I am lifting anything - and if so what.

    We were talking about money - and income rises with knowledge in any profession. I think this profession is underrated because people think of it as a "craft". It can go places if people start seeing themselves as true professionals. Working with historic materials is not a walk in the park, however, for any who are interested, there are some great forums where in depth information is available including a new one for photo conservators at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/photoconservation/ - It's moderated by Luis Nadeau who will NOT entertain questions about digital! I'm sure most of you are familiar with Conservation Online If not it's a resource for Conservation Professionals from the Preservation Department of Stanford University Libraries that can be found at http://palimpsest.stanford.edu/ As far as I know anyone can make inquiries but only qualified professionals can post so the data base has some of the best and most current information available.

    Jim Conway

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    • #3
      Jim Conway wrote - "Hopefully creating a new middle ground between those who need to learn that you don't clean photos with spiced up gasoline and those who think photos should be viewed with a fifteen watt light bulb not more often than once every 20 years or it will be the end of civilization as we know it.. "

      I think this is a valid argument. Of course, it is the owner who should decide, but what good is a photograph that is stained, etc. so badly you can't see what it is.

      Personally, I have become more critical of the pictures I work on. I have a few really outstanding photographs. The rest are of no artistic value, only sentimental. I would be interested in conserving those few great photographs with the type of non-digital service Jim has. The rest will be done with photoshop and archived on cds. Some of those will be printed.

      This approach has saved me some stress. By prioritizing the quality of my pictures, I am free from the pressure to create masterpieces that were never there. And I can work on the pictures that are good artisticly to begin with, therefore they satisfy me more when I retouch and print them.

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      • #4
        Thanks for your quick and insightful reply Jim. I was not questioning the need for disaster type cleaning, that is a different kettle of fish, as it were...However because the basic make up of Albumen prints is different from the gelatin or collodian types and is far more susceptable to cracking and actual chemical as well as physical decomposition when wetted, I was curious as to if cleaning was simply a standard procedure you perform or if it is restricted to only those photos displaying a compelling need for it. Sounds like you judge each photo on its individual merits, which no one can find fault with. There is no doubt cleaning is necessary and as time passes the need for it will only increase...however after seeing several wonderful old albumen prints from the 1880's which were extensively damaged in ill advised cleaning attempts, I tend to shudder when cleaning is brought up without the necessary caveats etc., to let folks know that cleaning is not a simple grab-a-cotton-ball- or- rag and whatever solvent happens to be the "special" of the day...I generally take the view that cleaning is best left to the trained expert, and then only if a compelling reason such as disaster recovery is evident. As to display, if done with care and with knowledge of the light fugitive nature of many of the old tints added to the albumen and those applied after the photo was toned and fixed, certainly they should be displayed and enjoyed. But improper display ( and storage) will and does hasten deterioration in a remarkably short time, and displaying in severe light levels or high temp./high humidity environments is inexcusable with the knowledge now avaliable about the deleterious effects of UV, temp. and RH; thanks to the work of researchers at Kodak and independent labs and orginizations, which is why the display of digital copys makes so much sense. Educating the owners about these aspects of their old photos is, or should be, considered a vital part of the service provided. Thanks again for your insight..wish you were closer, I would love to see your set up. Tom
        Last edited by thomasgeorge; 01-22-2002, 12:47 PM.

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        • #5
          Responsibility

          Sharon - One of the articles that I wrote some years back echoes your thoughts ... the concept that I was trying to get across was in the title "You Are The Editor". The visual records for your families and the communities that you live is in your hands today. What will be available 150 years from now is in your hands as well - and, when you REALLY think about it, that's an awesome responsibility!

          Jim Conway

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