With major advancements in miniaturization and computerization of analytical equipment, instrumentation that several years ago required substantial laboratory space can now be packed into a suitcase. GCI scientists have assembled a series of portable analytical instruments to form a portable laboratory in order to facilitate their research in photography conservation. An advantage of such a laboratory is that its use eliminates the necessity of transporting the art for the purposes of analysis—and the risks associated with transporting the art.

An important part of the portable laboratory is the portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometer. This instrument—based on the technology that was used by the Mars Rover to remotely analyze selected rocks on the Mars surface—permits analysis of the major chemical elements that play a role in photography. These include image-forming elements and elements used to modify the stability or tonality of a photographic image.

Another instrument in the portable laboratory is the ATR-FTIR infrared spectrometer. In a matter of seconds, this instrument can analyze organic components of a photograph. GCI scientists have programmed the instrument to recognize all major photographic processes and many process variants.

Analytical information from portable instruments is supported by microscopic inspection of the structure of a photographic image and recording this visual information using a digital camera and highly sophisticated measuring, image processing, and cataloging software.

The optical properties of any photograph under study can be measured using a small instrument—the size of a computer mouse—that can perform the functions of three very useful optical instruments: a densitometer, a color meter, and a reflection spectrophotometer.

GCI scientists are using the portable laboratory with in-house research and in a number of collaborative research projects with several museums holding photographic collections.