Trick Photography: A Handbook Describing all the Most Mysterious Photographic Tricks, Richard Penlake, 1907 - Paul Messier Photograph Conservation

Photograph conservation surveys

Paul Messier, in collaboration with the Harvard University Libraries and the Library of Congress has developed a unique survey model designed to assess the overall preservation condition of multiple photograph repositories across large institutions. This survey methodology is currently being applied at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, Yale University, the New York Public Library and is being tested by the Smithsonian Institution. Except for the Smithsonian, these projects were funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The survey model reflects the fact that photograph collections are typically spread across a large institution though preservation responsibilities for these collections usually falls to a single, centralized, conservation department.

The studio also engages in more conventional survey models applied to single collections or individual objects. These “collection-level” and "item-level” surveys are well established in the field of conservation and have been widely implemented over the past twenty years. The goal for a collection-level survey is to identify and prioritize the factors that determine the overall state of preservation for an entire collection. Usually such surveys assess the storage environment (mainly temperature and relative humidity), storage, display and handling techniques as well as disaster preparedness and pest management plans. Usually a collection-level survey can be performed by a conservator in two to three days with another week required to research and write a final report. By contrast, item-level surveys demand much more of a conservator’s time. The purpose of an item-level survey is to examine closely individual objects within a collection. The main goal of these surveys is to identify the materials and methods used to construct the art and artifacts as well as determining whether the condition of an object is stable or if conservation treatment is required.