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Tru Vue blog: "Here, There and Everywhere: The Preservation of Photographic Collections"

Vicky West ACR is Book & Paper Conservator currently working at the British Library and in private practice at her studio in North London. A Tru Vue grant sponsored her attendance to Debra Hess-Norris' workshop "Here, There and Everywhere: The Preservation of Photographic Collections" - organised by the Icon Photographic Materials Group and held in July 2018. 


Vicky West ACR

Debra Hess-Norris is Professor of Photograph Conservation at the University of Delaware and as well as teaching and lecturing internationally, she is also a renowned author in her field. This was the first time Debra has taught in the UK and I was delighted to have the opportunity to take part in this workshop.

Day One began with an introductory session where each participant shared their experiences and challenges in photographic conservation.  A list was drawn up of questions and topics for discussion over the coming days.  There followed a brief outline of the component structure of photographs and an overview of the main features of 19th century photographic processes and how to use evidence of their deterioration as an aid to identification.  Debra generously brought in her study collection of prints and negatives and we spent the remainder of the afternoon examining and identifying them.

debra_hess-norris_discusses_photographic_identification.jpg​Debra Hess-Norris discusses photographic identification

Day Two’s lecture was an overview of surface cleaning techniques and we were given the opportunity to practise on a selection of 19th and 20th century photographic images, using a variety of methods of dry and wet surface cleaning. This hands-on experience was really useful to help absorb and apply the large amount of technical information we had covered in the lectures.  It was also helpful to hear the other participants’ evaluations and conclusions.

The next subject for discussion was emergency planning and response, after which we were thrown in at the deep end with a practical session spent salvaging photographic material from containers full of dirty water to see how and what could be rescued.  The following day we checked the condition of the dried photographs and used these as an opportunity to reflect on the successes and failures of the salvage operation.  Debra then talked about the wider issues of photographic conservation such as preventive care for large collections, global and professional advocacy and fundraising.  She supplied us with many useful resources and inspirational ideas.

surface_cleaning_in_progress.jpgSurface cleaning in progress

I found this course hugely interesting and enjoyable; the practical sessions in particular gave me valuable experience which I will be able to use in my conservation practice.  Debra’s lectures were highly informative and she was very generous in sharing her wealth of knowledge and answering our many questions.  I am extremely grateful to ICON and TruVue for their sponsorship, and to the ICON Photographic Materials Group for organising and running the event so effectively.


All images: Vicky West


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