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Conservation for Wellbeing Blog: Historic Photographs

Conservation for Wellbeing (C4W) is a pilot project that combines conservation, archives and mental health. As well as practising conservation, participants will gain behind-the-scenes knowledge of how heritage collections are protected and cared for at London Metropolitan Archives. 

The C4W blog documents the sessions, which are a completely new way of engaging people, who live with mental health, in heritage and creativity.

Session 5 at LMA 6th March 2020. Historic Photographs:

This week’s session began early for Caroline De Stefani and myself as we spoke to our researcher Daisy Rubinstein about our experience of the project. During this discussion a key reflection for me was how the physical characteristics of the collection items; the smell of old leather, texture of parchment and sounds of different papers, seem to be especially engaging for participants.

Everyone arrived in 2 taxis from SMART and we began lunch by washing hands following guidance from our Corvid 19 Virus risk assessment.

Once the workshop started our first task was to fold and wrap the boxes we had measured last week, around the books. We had been joined by LMAs Learning and Engagement manager and, as we grappled with getting the labels stuck down in the correct place and right way up, she remarked, “conservation is so detailed…….”

We then discussed the materials that glass plate negatives and silver gelatine photographs are made from.

HL mentioned that the era of the physical photograph is over and how digital data and prints are completely different. We looked at some of the different supports used in photography (glass, paper, plastic), the image and emulsion layer – commonly silver particles that form an image in a gelatin layer.

“Gelatin, is that bones,” asked Julia (not her real name).

“Yes,” replied HL, “that’s what the rag and bone man used to collect.”

“Photographs are made from bones? Human bones?”

After establishing that the bones were animal, probably horse, the conversation moved on, to grave robbing and autopsy, before we returned to historic photographs. The handout we provided also included a list of – dos and don’ts – such as wearing vinyl gloves, keeping prints and negatives on the table, etc.

Following tea, Tom and the SMART volunteer re-joined us after they also had been interviewed by Daisy, and we spent the rest of the session re-housing black & white photographs of hospitals into polyester sleeves. The photographs varied in size and the correct polyester sleeve had to be chosen. This activity was quite hectic as everyone took part with enthusiasm and we re-housed four boxes in record speed!

Next Friday is the steering group for the project, and we have invited two of the participants to join us so that we can include their voices in the discussions. There will also be a focus group meeting from participants with Daisy.

Icon supports high quality conservation outcomes for C4W through the involvement of Icon accredited members Helen Lindsay ACR the C4W Coordinator and Caroline De Stefini ACR the C4W Conservation Lead and LMA Studio Manager.



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