January 1995 Issue 14
Review: the annual conference of the association for historical and fine art photographers
V&A Museum, London 6 October 1994
On 6 October 1994, the V&A hosted the annual conference of The Association for Historical and Fine Art Photographers. Seven papers were presented, covering a wide range of subjects, some of general interest and some directly relevant to the conservator.
In the first category, David Wilson discussed the problems and applications of aerial photography and Keith Maughan gave an account of the work of the Metropolitan Police Photographic Services Branch. Alex Bartell, a marketing executive with a special interest in photography, encouraged photographers to take marketing and business skills more seriously in their drive to be successful professionals. Returning to the links between photography and crime, Richard Ellis of the Metropolitan Police Art and Antiques Squad reported on a photographic database of stolen objects, established to help fight international art fraud and theft. He strongly recommended photographing the back of an object; this has proved equally as important as the record of the front in the identification of a stolen artefact. The conference also provided an occasion for Trevor Drake of Fuji (sponsors of the whole event) to announce winners of the Annual Photographers Competition, judged by Mark Haworth-Booth . V&A staff, Richard Davis (in the Fine Art and Historical Sections) and Ian Thomas (in the Fine Art Section) were highly recommended.
Three of the presentations were of particular interest to the conservator of photographic materials. The photography profession is going to be increasingly affected by digital imaging and, in turn, so will collections of photographic images and the work of photographic conservators. Martin Becket, an advertising photographer, discussed the current situation. He pointed out that digital cameras are still in the early stages of their development and so the best way to employ digital imaging at present is to scan negatives or transparencies produced by conventional cameras and processes. The ease with which digitised images can be accessed and manipulated is calling into question the conceptual and creative aspects of photography and threatening the integrity of the image itself. Often the client has much to say and leaves the photographer very little control. The systems for electronic buying and selling of images inadequately protect the publishing rights of the photographer.
Mark Haworth-Booth, Curator of Photographs in the Prints, Drawings and Paintings Collection of the V&A, gave a presentation about the 'River Scene' by Camille Silvy. This was first seen in 1858 in a gallery in Edinburgh. There are four surviving prints, one of which is in the V&A Collection. It has been printed from two negatives, one to depict the scene itself and the other to emphasise the sky. This was the usual way of producing a landscape with clouds in the era of the wet collodion glass plate negative. Mark went with the photographer, Steven Shaw, to France to photograph the scene again. There, they met the descendants of Silvy, who showed them an album with sketches and notes, demonstrating the thorough research towards his pictures. The Silvy is going on tour to Norwich, Birmingham and Lacock. Perhaps reinforcing the comments of the previous paragraph, a special feature of the show will be a digital presentation which will allow visitors to 'deconstruct' Silvy's image and then put it together again.
Finally, Elizabeth Martin, senior conservator of photographs at the V&A, discussed the complexities of photographic conservation. She began by summarising the deterioration processes including oxidation of image silver, degradation of the support, mechanical and biological damage and reviewed the gases primarily responsible for oxidative degradation. She stressed the importance of appropriate storage for photographic materials, considered the range of temperature and relative humidity appropriate and the relative merits of plastic and paper products as storage materials.
Overall, the day was immensely varied and interesting. It addressed issues which are important both inside the Museum and in the wider world of photography and left us with images in mind as diverse as Silvy's 'River Scene' and today's victims of violent crime.