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The GCI's photograph conservation research seeks to advance the identification of photographs and photographic processes beyond optical microscopy, which is the current standard methodology for identifying photographs.

Combining the systematic use of instrumental and analytical methods common in art conservation with newly developed analytical techniques, the GCI is developing a scientifically based methodology for identifying more than one hundred and fifty different photographic processes and important process variations invented, introduced, and often abandoned during the era of the chemical (or classical) photography.

This methodology represents an important contribution to photograph conservation practice by providing information needed by photograph and paper conservators to develop and implement appropriate strategies to preserve and conserve millions of significant photographs housed in art and historical museums, archives, libraries, and private collections around the world.

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The specific objectives of this research are to:
  • develop scientific methodologies for instrumental and analytical characterization of photographs and photographic material;
  • apply the developed analytical methodology when answering important photograph conservation or art historical questions related to the identification of photographs; and provide insight into the darkroom techniques of important photographers;
  • create an atlas of analytical signatures of different photographic processes to aid in the identification of photographic materials for use by photograph conservators;
  • create a practical, instrument-based decision tree for the identification of photographic processes, their variants, and post processing treatment of photographs and photographic material;
  • disseminate research results at conferences and symposia, and in related publications; and
  • conduct related education programs to train a new era of photograph conservation professionals.

With chemical photography being increasingly replaced by digital photography, there is a real danger that this shift will trigger a decrease in scientific research and knowledge regarding chemical photography, resulting in the loss of critical information about past artistic, commercial, and experimental photographic processes and technologies.

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Working in partnership with the Department of Photographs of the J. Paul Getty Museum, the National Media Museum (Bradford, UK), the French Photographic Society (Paris), the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, the George Eastman House (Rochester, New York), and many other major photograph collections around the world, the GCI is making a considerable contribution toward the preservation of the world's photograph heritage.

Last updated: June 2009