Image by Pavel Romaniko

Treatments

Process

We have extensive experience with a wide range of historic and contemporary photographic processes from the earliest daguerreotypes and salted paper prints to contemporary laminated and Diasec® mounted chromogenic prints and digitally generated images.  Other processes we have worked on include:

Ambrotypes / Tintypes / Cyanotypes / Albumen Prints / Platinum Prints / Carbon Prints / Gelatin-silver Prints (in a variety of weights and surfaces) / Chromogenic Color Prints / Polaroid Prints / Cibachrome-Ilfochrome (silver dye bleach) Prints / Carbro Prints / Bromoil Prints / Kodachrome Transparencies / Dye Transfer Prints

We also treat various historic negative processes:
Paper & Waxed Paper / Nitrate / Acetate / Polyester

Commonly Encountered Issues

The nature of surface-mounted chromogenic color photography is to intimately join the photographic print with an acrylic glazing to create a single object inextricably fused together. Although visually this makes for an impressive presentation, as conservators we recognize that it presents a potential problem should any damage occur to the acrylic surface from either side. Any inadvertent damage in the form of a scratch, abrasion or crack comes very difficult to rectify satisfactorily using known conservation techniques. Extreme handling precautions are always recommended. Remember that with this mounting technique, the acrylic surface IS the surface of the artwork.

There are a number of physical damages that these pieces may be subjected to. Some types of scratches can be treated by careful application of an abrasive micro-alumina polish. The treatment is done under high magnification, with all possible care but the area around the deepest scratches will be altered and may be still visible, though reduced, even after treatment. Our goal is to soften the edges of the scratch so that it does not cast as deep a shadow and thus minimize the light-scattering effect. This kind of treatment can only be performed on a glossy acrylic surface as there is currently no reliable way for reproducing the texture of matte acrylic surfaces.

Acrylic is a very soft, gas permeable and an easily charged material. By wiping a dry cloth over the surface of this piece a static charge can be created that will attract more dust and other particulates. Although invisible at first to the naked eye, over the years these fine scratches can accumulate, aggregate and become visible as cloudy areas. Dry abrasion must be avoided by all measures when cleaning the surface of this work to avoid scratches. Similarly, the use of any solvent-based Plexiglas cleaners, even those designed for cleaning or polishing acrylic surfaces is to be avoided. Usually composed of proprietary ingredients that can be changed at the whim of a manufacturer, these commercial products, although effective in the short term, may possibly lead to future problems such as crazing and clouding of the acrylic.

Unfortunately, glass glazing is very fragile and can break easily causing damage to the photograph it was intended to protect. Photographs under broken glass are commonly gouged or lacerated in numerous areas causing flaps of loose emulsion and deep grooves, often with exposed fibers of the paper base. In addition to the gouges, there may be increased gloss or ferrotyping in several areas across the surface due to contact with the glazing. In such cases, repairs to the photographic surfaces are never completely invisible and they can always be seen upon examination and especially so in raking light. However, treatment can be successful in reducing the immediate visual impact of the considerable damage suffered and help stabilize the print against any further image loss. We strive to make the disruptions less prominent so that they are not the very first things that are noticed once the work is presented.

Photographs exposed to a combination of poor storage and atmospheric conditions can suffer from mold damage. A mold damaged photograph will usually have numerous accretions of small mold colonies scattered across the surface that are readily visible, especially in raking light examination. These appear as small circular accretions (hyphae and spores) and in some instances may have already altered and discolored the underlying gelatin of the emulsion in which they were grown. It is possible to remove the mold bodies with mechanical action under magnification. This will greatly reduce their appearance, but where the surface has been physically compromised or stained, aesthetic reintegration will have variable results and will likely be apparent on close viewing especially in raking light. Physical reduction of the mold bodies and ensuring a stable, relatively dry environment are the best ways of discouraging reemergence of the mold.

Photographic surfaces can become stuck to their glazing if there is not adequate space in the frame to separate the photograph from its glazing. This problem is often caused by exposure to moisture or elevated humidity that allows the gelatin emulsion to swell and adhere to the glass. If the photograph is still in its damp state fast action is key and it should be removed by a conservator before being allowed to completely dry. If the damage has already occurred and the photograph is dry it may be possible to remove it through local humidification and physical manipulation. Some emulsion and image materials may remain affixed to the glass when glazing and photograph are separated. Should image material and binder remain adhered to the glazing, they can be removed and readhered in register to the print surface using an appropriate adhesive. Note that if this is the case, evidence of this damage will be apparent even after treatment. Please call or write to discuss this treatment option in more detail.

During post-processing treatment some photographs may receive a laminate layer, usually a thin, flexible plastic sheet adhered directly to the surface of the print. This often indicates the aesthetic choice of the artist. However, many of these plastic laminates are prone to deterioration that can cause their surface to become tacky and/or for the laminate to pull away from the photograph locally, usually around the edges of the print. This deterioration can be very distracting, completely changing the intended aesthetic of the work. In such cases it may be desirable to remove the laminate. This treatment procedure holds considerable risks that cannot be fully anticipated before treatment is underway. However, treatment also has the potential for a successful recuperation of the aesthetic qualities of the image. Previous projects of this nature show that plastic laminate materials may be removed mechanically along with residual adhesives from the print surface. However, these prior efforts may not accurately reflect the actual conditions in any one particular instance and both the adhesive and the laminate itself may have desiccated, hardened and/or cross-linked making removal problematic. The potential also exists for a separation of the binder layer from the primary paper support. This is a very involved process with many issues to consider and we strongly suggest that a client with this situation call or write to discuss this treatment option in much more detail.

FAQs

A: If you make an appointment and bring a photograph into one of our studios we will examine it briefly and discuss various options with you. Because each photograph presents a unique project, treatment costs range widely and are dependent upon the nature and extent of conservation intervention required. If no testing or written work is required and you leave with the photograph, there is no fee for that service.

There are a number of physical damages that these pieces may be subjected to. Some types of scratches can be treated by careful application of an abrasive micro-alumina polish. The treatment is done under high magnification, with all possible care but the area around the deepest scratches will be altered and may be still visible, though reduced, even after treatment. Our goal is to soften the edges of the scratch so that it does not cast as deep a shadow and thus minimize the light-scattering effect. This kind of treatment can only be performed on a glossy acrylic surface as there is currently no reliable way for reproducing the texture of matte acrylic surfaces.

Acrylic is a very soft, gas permeable and an easily charged material. By wiping a dry cloth over the surface of this piece a static charge can be created that will attract more dust and other particulates. Although invisible at first to the naked eye, over the years these fine scratches can accumulate, aggregate and become visible as cloudy areas. Dry abrasion must be avoided by all measures when cleaning the surface of this work to avoid scratches. Similarly, the use of any solvent-based Plexiglas cleaners, even those designed for cleaning or polishing acrylic surfaces is to be avoided. Usually composed of proprietary ingredients that can be changed at the whim of a manufacturer, these commercial products, although effective in the short term, may possibly lead to future problems such as crazing and clouding of the acrylic.

A: To be considered for treatment a photograph must be examined closely. We cannot work responsibly from e-mailed images or from verbal descriptions alone. In a controlled studio environment we have the time and equipment necessary to thoroughly examine a photograph, often under high magnification and using a variety of lighting techniques to assess its condition. Occasionally spot testing is performed to determine solubility and to develop responsible treatment options.

As part of our preliminary work we produce a written report in accordance with the American Institute for Conservation’s (AIC) Code of Ethics and Guidelines. (The A.I.C. is our governing professional body) The report describes the photograph’s condition and proposes various treatment options. These are described and listed step-by-step along with a cost estimate. We do charge a modest, non-refundable fee for this initial examination and written work.

Should one decide that treatment is not desired, the initial report is billed separately. This detailed report gives a baseline reading on the condition of the photograph and is a written document that can be taken for a second opinion and/or used to make an informed decision on how to proceed in the future. We recommend that all reports generated be kept as an historical record of the photograph.

A: The A.I.C. specifies that: “The conservation professional shall document examination, scientific investigation, and treatment by creating permanent records and reports.” At The Better Image® we follow the ethical code of our professional organization to assure the protection of our clients and our reputation in our field and to maintain the highest professional standards.

Once signed, a condition report and treatment proposal serve as a contractual agreement protecting both the client and the conservator.

A: We can usually examine and test a photograph and produce a written proposal within two weeks. Treatments are scheduled only upon receipt of a signed authorization from the client. A number of projects are usually underway at any one time, so depending upon our workload, the degree of research needed and technical difficulty, six to eight weeks or more from authorization to completion is not uncommon. It is always better to be patient and to allow more time rather than rush any treatment project.

A: If the written report and treatment proposal are accepted, we ask that you sign and return the authorization page to us. Once authorization is received the project is scheduled at one of our operating studios. Our clients are kept informed of any new developments that may occur and are notified when the project is nearing completion.

A: Projects are billed in full upon completion and payment is due upon receipt of our invoice unless other arrangements have been made. Some larger projects require an initial deposit to offset material start-up costs.

A: If agreed upon in advance of a project, we can make arrangements for installment payments.

A: Both of our studios are covered by a Fine Arts Conservation Insurance policy with Huntington T. Block. For a nominal fee, photographs of exceptional monetary value can also be insured individually for a specific period of time via a special rider.

A: We do not scan or make duplicates ourselves.  However we work closely with a number of highly regarded and professional facilities to coordinate the digital capture, image manipulation and out-put to either traditional silver gelatin, chromogenic or ink-jet materials of your valued originals. 

A: We are not certified to provide a market price for any fine art or historical photograph. We do work with a number of appraisers specializing in photographs and are happy to provide recommendations if requested.

A: If a photograph is too large, damaged or fragile to travel, we can schedule a visit to assess its condition on-site. Although useful to gain a general idea of a project, a site visit is often not sufficient to provide a thorough condition report or to develop a responsible treatment proposal. Fees will apply for the visit and any written report generated.

Conservation treatments are only undertaken in one of our studios. The nature of our work requires a controlled environment, access to a number of specialized tools, a quiet atmosphere, focus and attention. Experience has taught us that working on-site is neither the safest, nor most responsible manner of operating.

A: Although we are focused primarily on fine art and historic photographs, we do occasionally undertake conservation treatment of treasured family photographs. Our work is always carried out with the same skill and high standards that apply to fine art photographs. The cost of conservation treatment for photographs of sentimental value may seem prohibitively high when compared with digital scanning and duplication. Conservation seeks to preserve the original photographic artifact with all of its physical qualities intact.

A: We are committed to excellence within our specific field of photograph conservation and do not take on other types of artwork. We are able to refer you to professional conservators who are specialists in other fields and who are members of the American Institute for Conservation.

A: The high cost of conservation treatment, when compared to digital capture, scanning and duplication, is due in part to the high level of skill and knowledge brought to each individual project. Physically treating a fine art or historic photograph requires a combination of considerable hand skills, experience and technical knowledge of the materials involved. Other factors include the very limited pool of trained photograph conservators and the painstaking and time consuming nature of the work itself.

Please feel free to contact us to discuss any potential photograph conservation project. Visits are by Appointment Only

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