Door Henriëtte Verdonk

Assistent fotorestaurator / Assistant Photograph Conservator
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Conference Information
Location: Lincoln Building, Bruno Walter Auditorium, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
Speaker biographies:

About 175 participants (photograph conservators, curators and researchers) mostly working in the US but also in Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Portugal, The Republic of China, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK were at this meeting.

Guided Tours: 19-2-2019
Several guided tours, two per participant, and workshops were organized for this conference. I attended one at the New York Public Library (NYPL 42th Street) and one at the Laumont Printing and Mounting Studio

New York Public Library, Photography Collection at The Wallach Study Room for Prints and Photographs

The guided tour in the printing room of NYPL was attended by approximately 15 participants. After an introduction about the composition of the collection, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art Prints and Photographs, and the use of the printing room we were informed about the selected objects displayed on the tables. The objects varied from salt prints to developing-out prints, photographic albums, experimental collage-like photographs in a small book and a color photograph. We were encouraged to ask questions about the objects which were mostly protected by polyester sheets. The collection is preserved with a minimum intervention of the objects. There was a small discussion about the use of the words ‘retouched’ and ‘overpainted’ after looking at a photographic album with albumen prints that were almost entirely covered with paint. Our guide gave the following descriptions of the words retouched: only by the photographer or artist; overpainted: when it is done by a conservator or an amateur. It was suggested that the albumen prints were retouched by the photographer for reproduction purposes.


Overview of the Print Room.
Lewis W. Hine: “Greek refugees on Christmas Eve” ,Central Serbia, gelatin silver print approximately 1918.
Album (albumen prints) depicting an Arctic expedition in the late 19th C. Astor Lenor and Tilden Foundation.
Catalina de la Cruz(Chilean) Ferro and Van Dyke (brown) prints, 2016.

Laumont Printing and Mounting Studio

The tour at the Laumont Printing and Framing Studio in Queens, New York, was attended by 15 participants. It started with a talk by Willie Vera, the manager, about mounting and framing of prints. He showed us various workplaces in the studio (images 1-2) and explained a special cleat hanging system and the little ‘window’ at the bottom of the frame that gives access to the photographer’s signature (image 3). The variety in printing techniques, printing supports and framing options offered in this studio is enormous. From copper to textiles (image 4) to chalk layers, surfaces with different coatings from matte to super glossy (image 5) and thick Perspex supports (image 6). Artists and other customers come to the studio to learn about the printing possibilities to give their ideas the best outcome. It is a beneficial interaction between printer, framer and artist to explore new methods.

The second part of the tour was taken over by Valerie Sullo and her assistant who went deeper into the materiality of the prints like paper quality, primers, UV-printing with very light stable pigments, inks and coatings. Sullo also explained the build up of different ink layers, color and white, for printed screens used in light boxes. Intermediate white ink layer(s) are used for diffusion and to scatter light.


The second part of the tour was taken over by Valerie Sullo and her assistant who went deeper into the materiality of the prints like paper quality, primers, UV-printing with very light stable pigments, inks and coatings. Sullo also explained the build up of different ink layers, color and white, for printed screens used in light boxes. Intermediate white ink layer(s) are used for diffusion and to scatter light.




The conference presentations covered many subjects like technical studies, conservation challenges in contemporary photography, research and practical appilication, daguerreotypes, terminology use, ethical issues, advocacy and funding, photographic albums and the 40 years history of the AIC-Photographic Materials Group.
In the last 18 years I have worked on different photographic album collections from public institutions, and private collections in the Netherlands and on the Ermakov Collection from photographic albums at the Simon Janashia Museum, Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia. Because of my interest in photographic albums three presentations on this subject are the focus of my travel report.

Photographic Albums

1. Two case studies of the treatment of photographic albums: between emic and etic approaches.

Speaker: Barbara Cattaneo, Opificio delle Pietre Dure (ODP), Florence, Italy. Co-Author(s): Gisella Guasti, Alessandro Sidoti (BNCF); Letizia Montalbano, Giulia Fraticelli (ODP); Stefano Anastasio (BAP Firenze); Giovanni Pagliarulo (Villa Tatti).

In this presentation Cattaneo described the difficulties she and her team had to overcome in their attempt keep and regain the integrity of two photographic albums after they were severly damaged. One by the flood of 1966 in Florence.The use of reusable hydrogels and nanoparticles was crucial for the conservation of the two albums.

“Photographic albums are complex objects and sometimes a major treatment must be considered in order to fulfill the institutional owner’s needs and assure their preservation in the long-term. Since albums bear a double nature—they display both the author’s narrative and the later attributed documental value—the decision-making process can be prolonged and delicate. This presentation described the choices, solutions and treatments discussed and performed on two photographic albums belonging to the National Archaeology Museum of Florence (Doro Levi –First Archaeology Campaign in Mesopotamia) and Villa I Tatti – The Harvard University Centre for Italian Renaissance Studies in Florence (Giuseppe Salvadori – Inventory of Furniture and Small Objects), carried out at the Conservation Laboratory of the National Central Library of Florence and “Opificio delle Pietre Dure” in Florence’.”

“The first album, Doro Levi’s –First Archaeology Campaign in Mesopotamia, damaged by the Florence flood in 1966, consist of 231 contact prints on Lupex Agfa and Kodak Velox dating from 1925 and 1935. Some of the prints were loose (image 7) while others still adhered to the thick black pages typical for albums from the 1930s and 1940s’. Many ‘photographs showed heavy losses of the image layer (image 8); prints were even stuck together with emulsion against emulsion. White and black pencil marks were found both on the pages and on the back of the loose photographs, leading to the proposition that notes could be present on the back of the glued images too. The conservation of the albums includes the removal of the photographs from the album pages, surface cleaning and washing of album pages and surface cleaning of photographs, separating of the photographs, consolidating the paper and image layers, mending tears, loss compensation and finally a new mounting solution of the photographs to save the album’s form and help to retrace the history of Doro Levi’s journey to Mesopotamia.”


“The second album, Giuseppe Salvadori – Inventory of Furniture and Small Objects, consisted of more than 200 prints pasted—sometimes overlapping—on acidic mechanical pulp cardboard. (image 9) These were mainly albumen prints, but the album also contained a few DOP silver gelatine prints, collodion and gelatine POP prints, and one platinum print. Many of the photographs were affected by folds, wrinkles, cracks, skinning of the primary supports, and heavy oxidation. Four different types of adhesives were identified, and twelve different inks and pencils had been used to write notes and numbers both on the photographs and on the cardboard supports. Cleaning, the removal of the photographsand de-acidification of secondary supports with calcium nanoparticles were carried out, while a new mountingtechnique was implemented. A strict workflow had to be put into action due to the large number of photographs involved” (image 10).


“In both cases, physical gels (Agar Art, Gellan Gum) or chemical gels (Nanorestore®) were used and their use proved to be fundamental to the success of the delicate treatment. New mounting solutions (image 11) were required to ensure the safe handling (image 12) and storage of the albums, in line with the expectations of the Institutional owners and respecting the albums’ original forms.” (Cattaneo et. al)

2) Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War. A case study for the manufacture and deterioration of photographic albums.

Speaker: Laura Panadero, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA, USA.

The second presentation was about Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War (image 13). In a comparative case study of two copies of the Sketch Book of the Harvard Art Museums and the Metropolitan Museum (image 14), Panadero tried to find answers on issues like fading of the albumen prints and discoloration of the album pages. What was the material interaction between photographic albums and their contents of albumen prints, exhibiting practice, handling and environmental circumstances?


“Alexander Gardner published Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War in 1866, immediately following the end of the American Civil War. The two-volume book contains 100 albumen photographs, each mounted to a lithographically printed mount page, and preceded by a page with letterpress text describing the image (image 15). Gardner’s Washington D.C. studio printed the photographs using negatives from eleven photographers. Gardner is thought to have produced approximately 150 copies of the Sketch Book of which 67 extant copies have been identified. The copy of the Sketch Book at the Harvard Art Museums was frequently in demand for exhibition and study. An in-depth technical study was prompted by concern over the light stability of the albumen photographs, and an interest in several unexplained condition issues. The photographs were dramatically faded in patterns which appeared to be a result of interactions between the photographs and the lithographically printed elements of the book (image 16). The photographs themselves seemed to have caused degradation in the paper of facing album leaves. Comparison of Harvard Art Museum’s copy with several other copies in North American Collections further defined patterns of deterioration present across copies.”

“Close examination and analysis of the photographs and printed pages provided some insight into the nature of the interactions between the photographic and non-photographic elements of the Sketch Book. Analysis included XRF of the photographic image material and lithographic inks, FTIR of coatings and adhesives, and fiber analysis of text and photographic mount papers. The light stability of the photographs was also directly measured with micro-fade testing, followed by spectrophotometry before and after exhibition. The results of this analysis was presented along with possible explanations for some of the unusual patterns of deterioration observed in the Sketch Book. Albumen photographs were extremely common in photographic albums and books of the 19th century. Much scholarship has been devoted to the manufacture and aging of albumen photographs, and some to the binding structures and mounting methods used in photographic albums. However, the material interaction between albumen photographs and other components of photographically illustrated books are less well documentaded.This research on the Sketch Book is a step towards a better understanding of the photographic book as a whole object. Research undertaken not in service of eventual treatment, but rather to prevent further deterioration that might result from exhibition and handling. Although less immediate than physical treatment, this technical historical work has a lasting impact on the preservation and the exhibiting of photographic heritage”. (Panadero et. al)

3) Ethical considerations when exhibiting, studying and treating photographic albums: the Asser albums at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Speaker: Rosina Herrera Garrido, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

In this presentation Herrera Garrido reflected on the role of the photograph conservator and the curator in the process of decision making in preparation for the first exhibition in 1999 of the Dutch photographer Eduard Isaac Asser. The decisions taken then, might now be frowned upon. But Herrera Garrido states that we should have more empathy for our colleagues and be less judgemental about the decisions that were made in the past. We all did and do our best when balancing between serving the object or the public.

“The Rijksmuseum holds the Collection of Eduard Isaac Asser (1809-1894), one of the pioneers in photography in the Netherlands. Besides a few daguerreotypes and photolithographs, the bulk of his oeuvre consists of 187 photographs kept in four albums. (image 17) Asser’s work was donated to the State of the Netherlands in 1994 by the Asser Family Foundation. An exhibition was then organized and opened in 1999. At that time, exhibiting a few objects and the albums showing just one page would not have made a big impact. A difficult decision was made, and 42 prints were taken out of the albums, framed and hung onto the walls.” [ see quotes 1 and 2] “This was done in the Nationaal Fotorestauratie Atelier in Rotterdam, in two ways: 1. Prints that were mounted with local spots of adhesive were mechanically detached. (image 18) 2. When the prints were completely adhered to the page the entire page was cut along the spine. (image 19) After the exhibition these prints and pages were hinged back in their place with Japanese paper. Since there is not a detailed report, contact with the people involved was pursued. Unfortunately, not everybody could be reached but, the book conservator was pleased to discuss the decision and the controversy around them. It appeared that she had no choice but to make possible the exhibition plan designed by the curatorial team.”

“It is surprising to us now that in 1998, the desire for the exhibition outweighed the integrity of an object. However, situations like this are recurrent and, in 2017, another print from an Asser’s album was requested to be taken out for display. That particular print was already used in 1998. Nowadays we would not have accepted to cut the original album page, which means that something has changed in the last ten years. However, we did accept to cut the modern Japanese paper hinge. This act is definitely less invasive, but, is it still justifiable? The story of these albums does not finish here. Currently, the prints in the albums are the subject of technical research. In order to fit the ATR Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) device, 24 objects (now hinged with Japanese paper) were detached. Also, in 11 prints that could not be separated, samples were taken to perform Absorbance FTIR. The author of this abstract was responsible for these interventions. Destroying the original mounting today is objectionable, but disturbing previous treatments or taking samples could be justified (although only after long deliberations). (image 20) Looking back to preceding interventions without judgment is an excellent exercise to learn and grow professionally. One can take opposite decisions on similar cases in different moments of their career. There is always a way to justify our present actions and, in hindsight, regret them years later. However, one thing remains the same: the most popular objects are always the ones treated and re-treated. Perhaps it is time to look critically at the reasons why we alter those objects and when our treatments should start being considered part of their history.” (Herrera Garrido)


Quote 1: ‘The examiners state, on one hand (…) ’the material in the album is not in chronological order and the albums are not a systematic record of Asser’s work and development’. In spite of these interpretation(…), the examiners state that ‘the integrity of the collection is paramount’. No reason for this recommendation is given. It might well be a curatorial decision to construct new albums for the photographs (…) and re-arrange them in a logical order (by process?, chronological?. Since there is no apparent reason for the present sequence, it might be viewed as being haphazard, and so capable of being improved’. Klaus B. Hendriks, Ottawa 1994

Quote 2: ‘I agree completely with the conservator’s strong recommendation that these albuns should not be disassembled. The integrity of their binding structures and order of the images within (although, perhaps not chronological) should be maintained.The adhesives and the papers used in the album’s construction are of good quality and do not appear to have adversely affected these images.Removal of these images from their album may prove problematic, and in this situation, a full treatment of this nature is difficult to justify’. Debbie Hess Norris, May 25, 1994