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Thread: Processed to "Museum Archival Standards"

  1. #1

    Processed to "Museum Archival Standards"

    I've been browsing a lot of photographer's web sites lately.

    There are a lot of photographers selling gelatin silver prints which they claim are 'processed to museum archival standards", or similar wording. The sentences with these statements are all eerily similar, as if long ago, someone made such a statement in the ur-website of the original photographer, and ever since it's been copied from website to website.

    So, what standards are they referring to? Can anyone provide a link to such a set of standards? What are the standards like, and what do they standardize?

  2. #2
    Format Omnivore Brian C. Miller's Avatar
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    Processed to "Museum Archival Standards"

    I think its just marketing hype for using fiber paper and toning, instead of RC processed in depleted chemicals.
    "It's the way to educate your eyes. Stare. Pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long." - Walker Evans

  3. #3
    tim atherton's Avatar
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    Processed to "Museum Archival Standards"

    the standards are usually set out in something like "Processing Contemporary Black-and-White Photographic Films and Papers" (from the Canadian Conservation Institute in this case), which is what we used amoing others - I think the Library of Congress also published their own similar standard guidlines (mostly based on the same research - hmm just done a quick check and my LoC papers cite the CCI stuff as their source).

    I thinkin the US there are also ANSI standards such as "1986. American National Standards Institute. American national standard for photography (processing) - methods for evaluating processing with respect to the stability of the resultant image - black-and-white papers. ANSI PH4.32-1986. New York: American National Standards Institute" and others in the series

    These standards were in part developed to provide the best standards for B&W processing for documentation and record making for Archives etc

    Do a web search and you can come up with the sort of stuff

    http://palimpsest.stanford.edu/byorg/ifla/photstd.html

    http://171.64.128.118/iada/ta95_123.pdf etc
    You'd be amazed how small the demand is for pictures of trees... - Fred Astaire to Audrey Hepburn

    www.photo-muse.blogspot.com blog

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    Ted Harris's Avatar
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    Processed to "Museum Archival Standards"

    Tim is correct that there are established US standards (although I suspect that many photographers don't know what they are). I am not sure if they are ANSI standards or standards established by one or more conservation groups. I do have one book that is specifically on point to this and will rummage around and see if I can find it. Michael Smith and/or Paula should be able to shed more light on this too.

  5. #5

    Processed to "Museum Archival Standards"

    Thanks, Tim.

    The problem I have is that, if you look at (for instance) the first url you mention (the stanford one), it's actually a bibliography of ansi standards. All of them appear to be discussing standards of care for prints or film, and not standards for archival processing per se. I'm not clear on whether "processing to museum archival standards" means there's some tests that are applied, or whether the processing conforms to some standardized procedure. I confess that I strongly suspect that what it means is exactly what Brian Miller suggests.

    In the end it all seems to come down to the CCI paper I see referenced as CCI #16/6 Processing Contemporary Black and White Photographic Films and Paper. I haven't been able to find a copy online. I don't suppose you'd happen to have a copy?

    What I'm really after is documentation that specifies some processing standard for gelatin silver papers and also has actual test data (or even results) on the expected longevity of the resulting prints.

  6. #6

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    Processed to "Museum Archival Standards"

    Hi, am new to the group and this is my first post. Interesting to see the subject is also being discussed on the digital black and white printing forum relative to digital fine art prints. At that group, is no solid answer. This is a very timely question. I just did a Google search on keywords ANSI photographic standards and learned the ANSI standards are being replaced by ISO numbering and revision. Here is one link of many.

    http://palimpsest.stanford.edu/byorg/abbey/an/an25/an25-6/an25-602.html

    Since I am just getting back into photography (large format is the best) will have many questions. Marketing is one thing, complying with a set of standards is another. It seems to me that archival prints produced to a written standard would tend to enhance the photographic arts business.

    Best,

    Chuck

  7. #7
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    Processed to "Museum Archival Standards"

    The Library of Congress has a piece on storage of photographic materials -

    www.loc.gov/preserv/care/photolea.html

    - but I haven't yet found anything there with any detail on processing. The storage document does state that all processing should be done to ISO standard 18901.

    You can buy a copy of that from ISO (surprise!) but it costs 99 Swiss Francs:

    www.iso.org/iso/en/CatalogueDetailPage.CatalogueDetail?CSNUMBER=31925&ICS1=37&ICS2=40&ICS3=20

    Paul, I don't think you're going to find definitive information on longevity anywhere. Such test data as exist in the public or quasi-public domain seem to reside in places like the Gmuender and Sorgen masters' theses, which you have to really dig to get your hands on, and documents like those raise almost as many questions as they answer, especially about generalizing the results to processing and environmental conditions that don't exactly match theirs.

    Oddly enough, there's probably been more solid, fully-characterized data on image stability of inkjet media put into the public domain by Wilhelm over the past few years alone than has ever been published about traditional photo paper.

  8. #8
    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    Processed to "Museum Archival Standards"

    Any kind of universal standard is going to meaningless, because results are always dependent on the specific combinations of materials and chemicals used. In many cases, no one even understands the science behind the differences. The amount of time in an archival washer it takes to clear thiosulfate to a given standard can vary by 500% depending on the characteristics of the local water. As far as I've seen, no one has any idea what the significant differences are in the water supplies that lead to this. And no one can correlate that standard of x% thiosulfate with a resistance to staining for y# of years, because it depends so much on the specific paper, toners, and other variables in processing. And in storage.

    We see the same kind of thing in inkjet prints. Everyone was hoping for simple answers, but we see that results are completely dependend not only on the paper or the ink, but the specific ink/paper combination.

    The only way to have any real idea would be to take your exact prints and submit them for some kind of torture testing. Not that anyone can agree on how to correlate torture test results with actual years in real world conditions. But it would give you an idea of how your work compares with reference standards. Is anyone actually doing this? I hope not. Life is short; I'd rather spend more of it making art and less of of it worrying about things like this.

    For what it's worth, I've never had a curator or collector ask me about my archival standards.

  9. #9
    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    Processed to "Museum Archival Standards"

    I want to add that I think Tim is right; whatever standards are there are designed for archivists and conservators, not artists. It wouldn't be a bad idea for artists do be familiar with the ideas behind the standards. But I seriously doubt the photographers making these claims have much familiarity at all.

  10. #10

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    Processed to "Museum Archival Standards"

    in the UK the Fine Art Trade Guild attempt to lay down some guidelines for their members but since there is no governing body that controls the production of silver gelatin prints, or framing or any other art work for that matter, then there can be no applicable standards.

    You will have to rely on the integrity of the artist and if you can't do that then there is no hope.

    Besides, the really great thing about standards is that there are so many different ones to choose from!

    www.fineart.co.uk

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