Indepth Arts News: |
"Photography: Processes, Preservation, and Conservation"
2001-01-30 until 2001-05-06
Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York, NY,
An exploration of the technical history of photographic processes and of
related conservation, preservation, and connoisseurship issues will be
presented in an exhibition opening at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on
January 30, 2001. Photography: Processes, Preservation, and
Conservation, on view through May 6 in the Museum's Howard Gilman
Gallery, will include approximately 35 works by some of the most revered
names in photography, ranging from the superbly preserved to the
unfortunately time-worn, with before-and-after treatment documentation,
microscopic views, and examples of current methods for examination,
analysis, preservation, and treatment. The exhibition celebrates the January
2001 opening of the Museum's new, state-of-the-art Sherman Fairchild
Center for Works on Paper and Photograph Conservation.
The exhibition is made possible by the Henry Nias Foundation, Inc.
Philippe de Montebello, Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
explained, From its inception, photography has always had a somewhat split
personality part art, part science. While the Museum aims to collect and
exhibit the high points of photographic art, we can better appreciate the
aesthetics of those works, and our conservators can better safeguard them for
future generations if we also understand the technical history of the medium.
By revealing this often hidden side of photography, we hope to allow our
public to gain a fuller appreciation for the photographs displayed on our
Photography: Processes, Preservation, and Conservation will be
arranged chronologically, beginning with the first publicly displayed
photographic process the daguerreotype and will conclude with five
different processes employed in color photography chromogenic printing,
silver dye bleach printing, dye transfer printing, carbro printing, and ink
jet printing. Works by William Henry Fox Talbot, Carleton Watkins, Thomas
Eakins, Edward Steichen, and Berenice Abbott, among others, will be on view.
Only in the past three decades has photograph conservation arrived at
current levels of expertise and ethical standards as an outgrowth of
photographic science and other areas of conservation specialization, said
Nora Kennedy, Sherman Fairchild Conservator of Photographs at the Museum.
The roots of photographic conservation, however, can be found in the
experiments of the early photographers themselves, as they tried to enhance
and revivify their works.
The extraordinary precision of daguerreotypes one-of-a-kind images on
silver-plated copper sheets will be demonstrated in a view of Paris made in
1849 by Choiselat and Ratel, in which even the buttons on the uniform of a
distant soldier are visible through a microscope. Preservation of
daguerreotypes in period and modern housings will be shown, and the risks of
chemical cleaning will be pointed out on a Southworth and Hawes portrait that
a well-intentioned owner tried to clean in 1934.
A two-part panorama of the first photographic printing firm, Reading
Establishment (Talbot and Henneman, 1846), details the steps involved in
the paper print process, which was invented by Talbot and which gradually
supplanted daguerreotypes in the 1850s. In its early days, photography was
handcrafted, and each photographer's work had a particular texture, tone, and
color, the result of individual chemical recipes and procedures.
Five splendid salted paper prints from the 1840s and 1850s by Louis
Robert, David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, Gustave Le Gray, Frank
Chauvassaigne, and Louis-Désiré Blanquart-Evrard will demonstrate this.
Two 1860s albumen silver prints by Carleton Watkins reveal how conditions
of storage and display affect photographs. One print, originally from an
album kept in a library and rarely viewed, is clear, intense, and luminous;
the other print, which was framed and long exhibited before joining the
Metropolitan's collection, is discolored and stained from light and the poor
materials of its mount and wood frame.
Highlighting the critical role of the conservator, a platinum print of a male
nude by Thomas Eakins, ca. 1890, will be displayed alongside detail
photographs of the print prior to treatment. An explanation of how the
conservator restored the photograph to structural stability and aesthetic
integrity will describe aspects of deterioration and conservation in vivid
detail. The state-of-the-art analytical tools of the conservator will also be
explored through a turn-of-the-century photograph by Edward Steichen, an
artist who experimented with a variety of painterly photographic techniques
that rendered the works difficult to analyze. The precise elemental makeup of
such pictures can now be discovered through non-destructive x-ray
fluorescence, which enables the conservator to track an artist's technical
development and to make more appropriate recommendations for treatment,
storage, and exhibition.
Technical methods to help determine authenticity, a major concern of
collectors, curators, and other connoisseurs, will also be displayed. Analysis
of microscopic fibers from photographic paper can help to date a work, as can
the presence of optical brighteners that were added to many photographic
papers after World War II and are visible under ultra-violet light. The issue
of vintage prints (prints made close to the time of the original negative)
will be presented through two dramatically different black-and-white prints
of Berenice Abbott's 1925 portrait of writer Djuna Barnes, one made in the
1920s, the other in the 1980s.
Artificially aged samples of five color processes chromogenic print (the
most common), silver dye bleach print, dye transfer print, carbro print,
and ink jet print will illustrate the degree to which each of these processes
is susceptible to deterioration, underscoring the fact that museums must take
special steps to preserve even the most contemporary photographs.