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A review of 'The Imperfect Image'

Megan Gent
Photographic Conservation Student on the RCA/V&A Conservation Course

55 papers, posters and a small trade fair were presented at the 'Imperfect Image' which was held at the Low Wood Conference Centre in Windermere, Cumbria from 6-10 April, 1992. The Chairman of the Arts Council, made the opening address. It was encouraging to learn of both Lord Palumbo 's personal and official commitment to raising the public level of awareness of the importance of photography and its conservation.

The papers presented covered a range of disciplines fundamental to the field of photographic conservation; science, art history, technology, training, as well as case studies. Some were of an especially high standard both in content and presentation.

Professor Margaret Harker's 'Composite Photographs: Intentions and Achievements' and Hope Kinglsey and Corrine Hillman's papers on 19th century photo-graphic research were the high points among the art history papers. Professor Harker, Emeritus Professor at the Polytechnic of Central London, illustrated her lecture with a number of recently researched images. Corrine Hillman, a private conservator in East Sussex, presented her current joint research into the history of photographic processes, under-taken with Hope Kinglsey, a lecturer in the history of photography at Bournemouth and Poole College of Art. Bryan Clarke is a paper conservator at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. His research into the history of photographic albums and their deterioration was a welcome contribution to the history of book binding as well as photographic conservation.

David Malin is a photographic scientist at the Anglo-Australian Observatory, New South Wales. His paper 'The Archival Image in Astronomy' was of historical and technical interest. It included images of scientific and aesthetic appeal from the Observatory's Archive. Anthony Hamber's 'A High Branch of Art, Electronic Digital Imaging and The Photographic Image', was a complex technical presentation, followed by demonstrations of digital imaging. As with most new technology, the application proved more approachable that the theory. As well as Head of Visual Resources at Birkbeck College London, Hamber is also head of the Birkbeck team working on The VASARI Project. The VASARI project is a survey of stored images of oil paintings at high resolution in digital form. The third paper in the scientific category was given by Boris Pretzel 'The Analysis of the Comparative Colour Changes Occurring in a Set of 19th Century Albumen Photo-graphs by Lady Hawarden.' Boris Pretzel is a higher scientific officer in the Conservation Department of theVictoria & Albert Museum.

If a prize had been awarded at the conference for courage, it should have gone to Christopher Woods, conservator at the Dorset County Record Office. 'Negatives: Positive Action. Treatment to Reveal or Remove Negative Images On Deteriorated Cellulose Supports' was a practical demonstration of a treatment which was carried out in front of his audience. He delivered a 'live' commentary whilst carrying out the treatment in a fume cupboard. The technique he demonstrated will be of practical use to me in the future.

'The Imperfect Image' proved a useful forum for bringing together a large number of delegates from a wide range of experiences and disciplines. The postprints will bring together in a single publication papers previously published elsewhere, along with the original material presented.
Organised particularly to follow IPC's 'Manchester `92' conference to allow delegates to attend both conferences, a core of mainly overseas delegates were able to do so. Pressure of time and funding however, prevented many potential delegates from attending.

I was fortunate to attend 'The Imperfect Image', 'Manchester `92' as well as the ICOM meeting held at the V&A from 30 -31 March. It was difficult not to draw comparisons between the three conferences. The format of 3 days in Manchester rather than 5 days in Windermere worked better. At 'The Imperfect Image,' speakers with two slots tended to duplicate their material. The tightness of the'Manchester `92' schedule and firm, professional chairing anticipated and avoided this sort of pitfall. On the other hand the soothing atmosphere of Winder-mere was a pleasant contrast to the gritty atmosphere of Manchester 1. However, the lack of free time in Windermere due to the day's schedule running late, prevented delegates from benefiting from the many amenities of the Lakes. A visit to Dove cottage at Grasmere arranged on one evening helped to make up this imbalance.

Papers recently presented else-where were given in Windermere which raises further the question as to how often material should be presented to largely similar audiences. On a personal level, during a fortnight of concentration listening to,several papers each day, unbroken by other activities, conference fatigue was inevitable at different points. The schedule at the ICOM meeting of half day sessions, balanced by the second half of the day taken up with studio visits worked very well at keeping mental fatigue at bay. In my opinion, the balancing of different activities during a conference is essential.

In conclusion, 'The Imperfect Image' would not have been possible without the single minded and unique enthusiasm for photography of Angela and Ian Moore, the organisers of the conference. I would also like to thank the Conservation Unit of the Museums and Galleries Commission, whose generous financial support enabled me to attend.