The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 6, Number 6
Dec 1982


"Influence de l'environnement sur la conservation des documents photographiques modernes," by M. Gillet, C. Garnier, and F. Flieder; and

"Synthèse des travaux recueillis dans la litterature sur la restauration des photographies en noir et blanc," by A. Cartier-Bresson. Both in

Les Documents Graphiques et Photographiques: Analyse et Conservation. Travaux Centre de Recherches sur la Conservation des Documents Graphiques, 1980-81) Editions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 15, quai Anatole-France, 75700 Paris, 1981. 148 pp.

Reviewed by M. Susan Barger, Ph.D., Research Associate, Materials Research Laboratory, Pennsylvania State University

The photographic sections of Les Documents Graphiques et Photographiques: Analyse et Conservation are important in that these chapters are among the first reports of ongoing, government supported research on the stability of photographic materials. This area of research has recently been gaining public support in many places. The French government, as indicated in the preface of this book, has made a serious long-term commitment to fund the research carried out in Mme. Flieder's laboratory and thus free their work from the perils of grants and grantsmanship.

The chapter "Environmental Influences on the Conservation of Photographic Materials" by Gillet, Garnier, and Flieder contains the first communication on what promises to be a fairly comprehensive study of environmental effects (light, temperature, and relative humidity) on the long-tern stability of a wide variety of modern (i.e., commercially available) photographic materials. Some black and white materials were examined in the study, but the emphasis of the study was placed on color materials of various formats from many companies. Basically, the data from two experiments are given here: one, dealing with the combined effects of temperature and relative humidity on photographic materials; and one, dealing with fading of photographic materials when exposed (under glass) to daylight. Indeed, this chapter contains the first published, empirical data concerned with the effects of relative humidity on the long-tern keeping of photographs. Their results confirm what has long been understood to occur, namely, that high relative humidity has an adverse effect on the long-term keeping of these materials.

There are a few points that detract from the valuable data reported here. The design of the aging experiments did not take into consideration the normal usage conditions for each of the films or papers analyzed. For instance, Kodachrome film is used for slides which are projected. Monitoring the fading of these materials during projection, rather than during exposure to sunlight as is described here, is a more appropriate way to assess their stability. Further, not all of the relevant data from the fading experiments was reported. For all of the materials, only cyan dye loss was reported. If cyan dye was the limiting dye (or the dye that fades most rapidly) for all of these materials, this would have been adequate. However, the variety and range of materials tested would indicate that this was probably not the case. It would also have been helpful if the authors had given a more detailed description of how they monitored fading. Especially in color materials, the rate of fading may differ from density to density, and thus the specific density that is monitored will affect the trend of the fading, and may lead to misleading conclusions.

The authors indicate that this is the first of a series. It is hoped that later work and subsequent papers will reflect experimental design based on intended use of the film or paper and that there will be a more complete accounting of the results. There is a great deal of need for information of this kind on the stability of photographic materials. This is an important study both for the variety of materials tested and for the empirical data on the effects of relative humidity on the aging of photographic materials.

In the second of the two chapters on photography, Cartier-Bresson provides a good review of black and white silver halide photographic processes and the literature concerning the care and conservation of these materials (current to 1980). It is a difficult task to sort out all of the various processes, and it is even more difficult to sort out the information on their care. This chapter provides a survey of this information without making judgements as to the efficacy or the advisability of following the recommendations found in the literature. The chapter includes a brief resume of the types of photographic images (positive, negative, "print out" images, "developed out" images, etc.) and the factors that contribute to the degradation of photographic images. There is a very detailed discussion of the daguerreotype, followed by a section on "print out" images on paper (albumen prints, and collodio-chloride and gelatino-bromide papers) and finally a long section on "developed Out" images (calotypes, albumenized glass, wet collodion [ambrotypes, tintypes and negatives], and gelatin emulsion processes [gelatin dry plates, paper prints, and gelatin films on synthetic supports]). Each section describes the method of fabrication for each process and the major forms of deterioration particular to each process, followed by a survey of restoration treatments and recommendations for care as reported in the literature.

The author notes in the conclusions that while there was a great interest in the prevention of fading of photographs during the nineteenth century, there was little work done in this area after the turn of the century, until the recent resurgence of interest in the preservation of photographic materials which dates from the late 1960's. She also points out that most of the work on the care of photographs has been focused on the daguerreotype and the silver halide-gelatin emulsion materials. This is reflected by the length of the sections on these materials.

There is no comparable review of this literature in English and this essay can serve as a basis for learning more about what has already been done concerning the care of photographs. However, it is not a good starting point for those who know nothing about the history of the photographic process. The emphasis placed on the daguerreotype (because of the wealth of literature about the process) fails to put it into the proper historical perspective as a very important process, but one which has comparatively fewer surviving artifacts than, for instance, albumen or gelatin print materials.

The essay hints at, but fails to stress, how little is actually known about the deterioration mechanisms of photographic materials. The literature contains much conflicting information and many conflicting recommendations, which do need to be examined in order to understand both how the problems of preserving photographs have been approached in the past and how photographs may have been treated. There is a great deal of work that needs to be done in all areas of photographic conservation. This chapter provides a view of the ground already covered.

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