Written by Ameena Mohammad, Pre-Columbian Archives Assistant
Got preservation issues? We do!
Earlier this year, Brenda Bernier, Head of Harvard Library’s Weissman Preservation Center and Paul M. & Harriet L. Weissman Senior Photograph Conservator, generously brought her knowledge and expertise regarding preservation and conservation of photographic materials to Dumbarton Oaks. The informal workshop followed the format of a working conversation as Bernier answered questions from Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and ICFA staff and examined specific items of our choosing.
ICFA staff asked Bernier for her opinion regarding many different item types and topics, including: tightly rolled and curling photostats from the Robert L. Van Nice Fieldwork Records and Papers, ca. 1936-1989 and possible light damage while photographing and scanning photographic material, such as color transparencies from the Byzantine Institute and Dumbarton Oaks Fieldwork Records and Papers, ca. late 1920s-2000s.
One of ICFA’s Pre-Columbian collections, the Christopher B. Donnan and Donna McClelland Moche Archive, 1963-2011, raised several concerns related to its many formats of photographic material. In their current housing, ink from reprographic prints of fineline drawings of Moche iconography is sticking and transferring onto their plastic sleeves. Bernier suggested using a Teflon spatula to separate the prints from their current plastic housing, so as to mitigate harm to the drawings. For residue on the surface of some photographic prints, rubber cement erasers can pick up the foreign substances. After examining negatives in the Moche Archive that have “spotting,” Bernier concluded that something must have gone wrong in the processing of the negatives. Nevertheless, she determined the negatives are in good condition and further steps should be taken to secure their long-term preservation (i.e., rehousing for cold storage).
Pay attention to paper
Library staff members also sought advice regarding different photographic prints from the Garden Archives. For example, Bernier explained that a “Kodachrome” print refers to a photograph made from a slide, not a photographic print from a Kodak negative. Participants also took turns examining different types of photographic material as a way to closely identify format types. Using a loop with a light, Bernier gave us tips to identify: collodion prints, chromogenic photographic prints, photomechanical prints, half-tone prints, reprographic ink jet prints, as well as many others. Bernier also reminded us that using the “suggested” type of paper for our own personal photographic prints is essential for the long-term preservation of printed copies of digital photographs (keep in mind that paper type includes the physical and chemical make up of the paper).
In addition to examining samples from the ICFA and Library collections, Bernier shared best practices and tools to use when handling material from photograph collections. When working in an archives or special collections library, one has to wear gloves. Typically, the gloves prescribed for handling photographic material or documents are white cotton. However, donning cotton gloves doesn’t always make working with such fragile items easy or efficient. According to Bernier, the fabric still allows perspiration and oils to transfer to collections material, so she prefers nitrile or latex gloves for safer and easier handling of items (as seen in the photo above).
By the end of the workshop, Bernier not only reaffirmed some of our current practices for preservation of material in our collections, but also contributed a plethora of resources and tips to enhance our daily work.