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conservation

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The History of Photography

Founder and Director of ARTIS PURA, Erin Salguero's first love was photography, a journey that led her to framing...

Along the way, she learned a lot not only about how to line up and shoot a great image, but the techniques and processes of old. In these digital days, we may have lost touch with the darkrooms, the chemicals and surfaces on which photographs were once printed and the impact photography has had on how we see and understand the world.

35mm Film and contact sheets from 1997. These images were taken and processed by Erin during study at Tafe. 

35mm Film and contact sheets from 1997. These images were taken and processed by Erin during study at Tafe. 


Painters used the first, simple form of ‘photography’ or rather the act of capturing the light cast from reality, with a device called the Camera Obscura.  This projected an image of what was in front of it onto a flat, glass surface, which painters then traced or copied.

Little did these clever artists know that soon enough, those images would be made permanent and do them out of a job. Painting itself was forced to change once the photograph became the established way of capturing reality…leading to the freeing up of artists and to the outpouring of creativity by painters such as Monet and Matisse, the surrealists, the modernists, the abstract expressionists and all the ‘ists’ that followed in trying to see beyond what the eye and the lens can capture.  

* more on the relationship between painting and photography:

 

An Example of a Daguerreotype

An Example of a Daguerreotype

Louis Daguerre created the first commercially viable process in the early 1800’s and it quickly it became the trend to have and carry a small Daguerreotype image of your loved ones. These were expensive, precious one-off items, made by exposing a chemically treated sheet of silver coated copper to light, and then chemically ‘fixing’ the image and removing the light sensitive component. Extremely delicate, these tiny portraits were usually placed behind glass and then in tiny decorative framed cases, to protect them. You can still find Daguerreotypes and the delicate images for sale in antique shops now and then. It’s important that you never try to open the case or remove the glass. If you need one conserved, whip it around to ARTIS PURA and they’ll take expert care of it for you. *

Soon after Daguerre’s invention, other processes followed, in an attempt to make photography more accessible and affordable. Images were made on glass (Ambrotypes) and small sheets of iron (Tintypes) and eventually, paper.

Private camera collection.  Photography by Cassandra Lehman

Private camera collection. Photography by Cassandra Lehman

Henry Fox-Talbot is the man given the honorable title of the inventor of modern photography, with his invention of the paper negative.  The Albumen print was the first commonly produced process to make prints using a negative on paper and allowing for multiple reproductions. The name comes from the use of egg white; the albumen was the binder, which adhered the light sensitive chemicals to the paper.

Eggs weren’t the only foodstuffs used in making photographic images, the Casein is a colloid derived from milk, casein prints are soft and watercolour-like and the relatively simple process is a specialised technique still used by some artists today. All of these processes still relied on the use of light sensitised silver, just like the original Daguerreotypes.

Although the first colour photograph was made as early as 1861, colour photography wasn’t commercially available until the Kodak Company brought out Kodachrome slide film in the 1930’s. Even then, prints were not available. Prior to this, colour was usually added to photographs by hand, using thin layers of oil paint.

 (Erin spent some time learning how to hand colour photographs in this traditional way and can restore old hand coloured prints as well as create a coloured version of an old black and white.See images below of a highly damaged photo with large sections missing.)

Colour negative film became wildly popular and readily available and affordable in the 1970’s. Unfortunately, many of these images are subject to fading. If you have some precious prints, we highly recommend that you check them regularly, preserve them in frames with UV glass and have copies made, as it is inevitable that they will fade over time and eventually disappear. Oddly enough, although this is a modern process, the images themselves are not likely to last anywhere as long as the beautiful and haunting black and white images of long ago. This is because colour prints don’t have any precious silver in the emulsion. 

Of course, we now have digital photography, digital prints and a plethora of imagery on screens, billboards and even our phones. It serves to wonder what future generations will have to ponder on, when they think of us. Will there be any permanent archive? Although we do take and share images of every precious moment in our lives, its important to engage the services of a professional photographer every now and then, to invest in archival prints and good framing, to ensure your memories and legacy will remain for generations to come.


Author -  Cassandra Lehman

ARTIS PURA are excited to have Cassandra as a permanent guest blogger. Her experience and knowledge helps to bring a broader more interesting flare to the ARTIS PURA blog

Her previous engagements include: Galleries Co-Ordinator for QCA, Griffith University,  Director, Woolloongabba Art Gallery and Senior Consultant - Arts & Events to the Alice Springs Town Council where she authored the Public Art Policy. Cassandra is now working in the private sector as an independent consultant for the visual arts and culture. www.art-consultant.com.au

* ARTIS PURA can assist with conserving the piece through framing only. Although we can assist with restoration of photographic images on paper we are unable to assist on works on tin, glass etc such as Daguerreotypes and Tin types. This is a highly specialised field. If you have a piece that needs attention please pop in and we will advise if we can assist.

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An Interview with a Conservator

Many have heard me talk about the time spent being mentored by Jennifer, an Asian Arts conservator,  to gain insight into the art of paper conservation. I have known Jennifer now for 4 years and in this time I have been amazed at not only her skill, but her dedication to maintaining the highest levels of professionalism and quality of her work. Knowing many of our clients visit us for our expertise in conservation framing, I thought it may be of interest to learn a little more about Jennifer and the work she does. 

Q:  Hi Jen, I know you are an arts conservator, do you specialise in any particular area?

Jennifer: Yes, I’m a conservator of works on paper and silk with particular expertise in Asian Paintings, so hanging scrolls, woodblock prints and folding screens.

Jennifer Loubser after conservation treatment with:

Five Human Relationships, Represented by Five Different Birds

China, Ming Dynasty, c. 16th Century.

Hanging Scroll

Ink and mineral colors painted on silk  

294 cmH  x   112 cm  W

Collection of Honolulu Museum of Arts

 

Q:    Why did you become an arts conservator?

I knew I wanted to be an arts conservator when I first started my Art History degree and went on an excursion to the Lascaux cave. Once I finished the tour of the cave, they told me that it was an exact reproduction, and that the real caves were being preserved from damage due to exposure to light, oxygen, and even the carbon dioxide in people’s breath. From that moment, I knew my career would be conserving artwork.

Q:    How did you come to specialise your particular area?

Jennifer:  Ten years later, I had finished my art history degree and worked in numerous capacities, in the arts, in galleries and museums. I then had the opportunity to work as a conservator for the first time. It was all simply about being in the right place at the right time, when there was a flood recovery effort at the University of Hawaii.  Ultimately I was able to make this opportunity the focus of my Masters degree. I was introduced to the conservator at the Honolulu Museum of Art, was offered volunteer work and then found it was possible to gain intern points for this. The conservator then offered me a paycheck and so I worked as a specialist in a traditional Japanese painting conservation studio. Hence my focus on Asian art.

Q:   The materials themselves are quite different, is that what caught your interest?

Jennifer: Yes, the materials are all hand made and have been refined over thousands of years. These techniques methods have been perfected over generations and centuries, and are accepted and employed in museums around the world. The pigments, even the fibers used for making paper are all hand made, the attention to detail is extraordinary.

Q:    You didn’t start with a conservators course, how long was your training and where did you train?

Jennifer:  When I was speaking with art conservators about how to go about becoming an art conservator, they all told me: 'The degree is not yet halfway to where you need to be. You really need at the very least five years of practical experience as well .' So I needed to know I could find work in such a small field, before studying for a master's degree.After my Art History degree, Masters courses in preservation and conservation, I worked for seven years as a specialist conservator in Honolulu and South Korea with plenty of study in Japan. I then decided to complete my conservation masters degree in Australia. My masters was in Conservation of Cultural Materials at the University of Melbourne. There wasn’t a degree like that available, in Honolulu.  There are only a few places around the world where you can study conservation at this level. 

Q:   So there’s one in Melbourne?

Jennifer:  Yes, it started at the ANU (Australian National University) in Canberra, so when that continued as undergraduate study in Heritage Conservation, the new program emerged as the Masters Degree, in Melbourne.

Q:   So you speak those languages?

Jennifer:  Yes, especially Korean, as I lived there, I worked there in the same field, looking after museum collections.I had the good fortune to work on 10 meter high Korean Buddhist paintings, screen panels in the Seoul National Palace Museum, and studied with a lacquer master. I then had the chance to work again with Bhutanese monks, conserving several of the Royal family's thangka paintings in Bhutan. They were all incredible opportunities.

Q:    Why and when would you recommend consulting with someone like yourself?

Jennifer:  There are all kinds of reason, perhaps because an artwork or object has local historical value or even if an item has personal, sentimental value and has suffered wear and tear over the years, or has just deteriorated through time and exposure to the elements.

Mao, Lenin, Marx  Lithograph, panel one of 3-panel poster printed on paper   Chinese Cultural Revolution Museum, Shanghai  Private collection, Brisbane

Mao, Lenin, Marx

Lithograph, panel one of 3-panel poster printed on paper 

Chinese Cultural Revolution Museum, Shanghai

Private collection, Brisbane

Q:    Should you wait until it has deteriorated?

Jennifer:  When you originally notice the first, tiny bit of damage or change, that’s when its best to have an item evaluated, to see if it needs to have its display assessed, or the location. For example, having it de-acidified, if it has some noticeable change, may extend its life for many years. Damage has many causes and can be due to heat, age, humidity, insects or even physical damage.

Q    So is it ever too late?

Jennifer:   It’s never too late, but sooner is best. If something is obviously happening, if there is any change occurring, it can be much more lengthy and difficult to try to stabilise it, if you leave it too long.

Q:    So you aim to stabilise rather than repair?

Jennifer:  It is important that stabilisation and repairs are done by professional, peer-reviewed conservators if you value your artwork. The difference between a conservator and a restorer is that we (conservators) work to extend the life of an object, rather than to ‘over restore’. We respect the artist’s original intent, and aim never to interfere with the original artwork by ensuring when we do repairs they are sympathetic and reversible. It is the conservator’s job to know what is original and historical, and to be able to recognise previous restorations.

Where to find qualified conservators, through the national professional association, AICCM.
https://aiccm.org.au/civicrm/profile/view?reset=1&id=736&gid=99

Q:    Could you give an example of 'conservation gone wrong'?

Jennifer:  Most people know the story of the Sistine chapel, and the debate over whether it was over-cleaned. Some of what occurs over time becomes part of an artwork’s history. Other factors such as the effects of pollution over time can be cleaned or mitigated through prevention.  We (conservators) are not aiming to bring a thing back to the state it was on day it came into being. It is not necessarily so, with an artwork, that it should come to look like new.

Q:   Do you see framing as a necessary investment?

Jennifer:  Absolutely, especially with artworks on paper; framing plays a vital role in protecting work, to save it from the intensity of ultraviolet rays, especially in Queensland. The damage of the sun on paper is similar to the damage done to our skin. Ultraviolet filters and glazing can really extend the life of an artwork. Framing provides a small micro climate and is the  best straightforward approaches to protect and extend the life of a work. Ask for hinges attached to works on paper with reversible conservation grade Japanese tissue and starch paste. The framing should be done using conservation grade materials; pure cotton mat board and UV filtering glazing are vital. They definitely save you damage and money in the long run and extend the life of a work.

Q:    Could you give a couple of tips to people who want to preserve and protect precious items?

Jennifer:  The most stable place to display something is always the best place, preferably on an interior wall that doesn’t receive any direct sunlight. Stable temperatures are best. Air-conditioning is not as important as circulating air.  It’s a good idea to change things up a little, rotate your displays and store and rest your precious artworks for a period of time each year.

In Japan, they have preserved works for many hundreds of years; they rotate the display according to the seasons, never exposing the most fragile items to harsh and changeable conditions.

Just like frames should be made with conservation grade materials, storage boxes and tissue paper should be acid free and archival. You don’t want the storage material to cause damage itself, because it’s not acid free. Always make sure your storage box can effectively protect the precious item from dust as well as humidity and insects and you will have the pleasure and enjoyment of your treasures for many years to come.

https://aiccm.org.au/civicrm/profile/view?reset=1&id=736&gid=99

 

http://www.asianartsconservation.com.au/

 

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