19 October 2012 John Rylands Library (JRL), Deansgate, Manchester
Jim Duff – The conservation team leader at JRL began the day with the fundamental question: ‘What is a photograph?’ This introduced us to the skills of handling and storing the wide range of archival photographic items. He stressed that we should be comfortable in handling materials ranging from the Daguerreotypes from 1839-1855 through the ever-changing evolution of wet collodion positives (1852-1890), tintypes and ferrotypes (1870-1939), cartes de visite (1860-1900), cabinet cards (1866-1914), snapshots from 1888 to the present day and postcards from 1902 to the present day. Black and white photographs could be tinted until colour photographic processes were invented. Polarised photographic methods were employed from 1948 and have, to some extent, been superseded by the images produced by the modern digital camera.
By applying two fundamental ways of operating, those of cleanliness and common sense, even the non-professional archivist should be able to preserve, exhibit and store archival material safely. Such basic care should be backed up by some understanding of the physics and chemistry involved in producing the particular photographic images as well as appreciating how various natural and artificial processes can cause deterioration or even destruction of these precious archives. Thus will be determined the various methods of storage that will protect our archival images and allow them to be safely exhibited and stored.
Stella Halkyard gave us an opportunity to study the range of photographic archival images. Even with no information other than the image itself the four groups of participants were able to unfold the history represented by the selection of photographs she provided. We examined specimens of each format of the photographic process from the mid-19th century to the present day. Stella challenged us to study every detail of the images and determine what could be discovered about the subject of the picture and the circumstances in which the photograph was taken, including placing a date on it.
After lunch a trio of specialists from the Centre for Heritage Imaging and Collection Care at Manchester University, Carol Burrows, Jamie Robinson and Gwen Jones considered the methods and purposes of digitalizing archival material. It became clear that professional expert knowledge and experience were necessary as well as the availability of quite expensive equipment. Different techniques are needed to digitalize different types of archival material successfully. The team offered their expertise in the use of the specialised equipment in the possession of the conservation team at JRL to the members present and gave us e-addresses and web sites that could facilitate our availing of this offer.
Br David Scarpa, De La Salle Provincialate, Oxford.