This project involved the conservation of a black and white silver gelatin photograph, at the ERO.
The most obvious problem with this object was that it was literally in pieces. The photograph had possibly previously been folded, indicated by the regular and even spacing of the tears, and as a result the paper support had been separated into different pieces, which were also curling. The photo also had areas of gelatin that were missing, and other areas that were flaking off and had folded over or underneath themselves. There were some small losses and tears to the primary support, and some of the corners were dog-eared. There were some rudimentary paper repairs to the top edge of the verso of the support.
Pre-treatment testing confirmed the emulsion layer to be gelatin, as it swelled with moisture when viewed under the microscope.
The photograph was cleaned using a soft brush on both sides, and chemical sponge lightly on the verso also. The object was then humidified in a Gore-Tex chamber, and pressed to reduce the curling. Backing removal of the old repairs was carried out using a methyl cellulose poultice. Some adhesive residues remained on the verso however, and attempts were made to remove these using a methyl cellulose poultice, and mechanically with a scalpel. Both methods however were not very successful, thus it was decided to try removal via a solvent. Bearing in mind the very sensitive nature of the gelatin emulsion, acetone was cautiously applied to the adhesive residues, which helped swell some of the adhesive which was then removed. Any residues that could not be removed in this way were left, as it was decided to be too risky to attempt anything more interventive.
The photograph was then humidified over a suction dome, and flattened again to help reduce curling further.
The object was then ready to be pieced back together by lining it. This was decided to be the best route of repair due to the extensive nature of the physical damage. Stretch lining was carried out over a light table, with the Silversafe lining paper being humidified before being applied to the table to allow for expansion to occur. Stretch lining was also chosen as it is a relatively dry method, and the nature of the moisture sensitive media dictated that this be required. The lining paper grain direction was deliberately chosen to oppose the object’s as this would help reduce curling with the two grains pulling in opposite directions. The light table also helped when it came to positioning the pieces back together on the lining paper. The photograph was left to dry under weight for several weeks.
Above: Photograph during stretch lining.
The flaking gelatin was then ready for consolidation treatment. The flakes and folds were gently locally humidified and swollen using a small amount of water on a paintbrush, before being adhered back down to the support with a 2% gelatin solution.
Above left: Area of flaking gelatin emulsion before consolidation. Above right: Same area after treatment.
Infill repairs were then carried out. Tests to find a good match in terms of colour, weight, and gloss were carried out, using different papers, painting on different percentage gelatin solutions, burnishing, and experimenting with Melinex and how it affected the surface gloss. 85gsm archival text block, burnished and then painted with 2% gelatin was decided upon as the best solution for infill repairs.
The object was then ready for housing. It was removed from the light table, trimmed, and placed in a Melinex enclosure as it did not need a mount as it was not going to be displayed. A piece of mount board was also included in the enclosure to support the object and help keep it flat. The enclosure was welded into a manilla folder and two corners were trimmed to allow for air flow.
Above: The housing solution created for the photograph.
The object was successfully cleaned, lined, repaired and housed, in such a way that now makes it accessible to users as before it had been in a very fragile and damaged state, which did not allow for any, let alone easy handling by the public. The image itself was quite unreadable, and called for reassembly in the form of lining.
This project provided the opportunity to practice newly acquired skills and techniques such as modifying the infill paper’s appearance, consolidating a gelatin emulsion, and creating housing using a combination of encapsulation and folder constructions. It required patience and a degree of experimentation, and overall it was felt that much was learnt and the object received a good standard of necessary treatment.