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Thread: Processed to "Museum Archival Standards"

  1. #41
    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    Processed to "Museum Archival Standards"

    That's probably about it. But your earlier point, about conservators being frustrated by wildly impermanent materials, is also true. Sadly for them, though, that kind of frustration is just part of the job. Ever since the 50s or so when artists started using these materials, it became the museums job to deal with them as best they could. They knew better than to try to dictate what artists use.

    But I'm sure they're thrilled when something shows up that's not only an important piece of art, but will last for a while too. It's a lot of work (and money) building a collection. The thought that at least some parts of the permanent collection have a chance at being permanent must be a relief to these guys.

  2. #42

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    Processed to "Museum Archival Standards"

    Archives have more standards about materials & processes used for photo collections, mainly because of the microfilm reformatting that goes on everyday in every state and federal gov't program for records, newspapers and the like. There are ANSI/ISO standards for the negs--everything from production to processing and storage--your state archives will probably have these posted someplace, to show their accordance with the standards (and the funding that goes along with that). This sort of trickles over into the SHPO--historic preservation--programs that most states run under the Federal level HABS program. This would be for the Nat'l Historic register (which recently went digital). There are standards for b/w film processing & printing within the NHR, which have RC paper as being acceptable--in the same way some types of inkjet materials are now acceptable, because they (NHR) have such good storage.

    You can check with the AAM or the AASLH for their standards for the museums that have been accredited by them. Only about 10% or some small number like that of museums are AAM accredited. I work as a staff photographer for an AAM accredited museum. It's too wonky to get into everything you need, but it's top to bottom for the facility, policies and staff qualifications. Once you get accredited, then it becomes easier to get funding, and it also plays an important part in your ability to get traveling exhibits and loans from other insitutions--because your facility meets the same standards. You might be able to use a reference such as the Nat'l parks Service, NPS, "Museum Handbook". Most of this is online now, and it's a comprehensive policy manual for the NPS system. It covers many of these topics.

    My point of view--well, I won't get into it. I work in a history museum, not an art museum. Museums are all different. Same goes for archives and libraries. They share some similar traits, but they vary widely in other approaches. I work in a dept that has all the museums lumped together, along with archives, preservation, archaeology, arts organizations, and libraries. We all work together but apart at the same time. We criss-cross on projects and support, but the indvidual policies often differ within each organization just by the nature of the work. Museums collect whatever they deem important to their overall missions and policies. Whatever they feel will tell the story or fill out the bigger picture. I doubt there is one "museum standard" though. There are many standards, actual bona-fide standards, but they all hinge around other standards. and it all comes down to the environment and in the end, fact of the matter is that nothing lasts forever.

    I'm on an exhibit team now for a photo collection from the late 1800's--stuff from an old book that came out on houghton mifflin--rare views of the western part of my state, by a long forgotten photographer. It should be intgeresting--a mystery tale of sorts. The prints cover many processes, and some are in good shape, some pretty bad now. They were processed in creeks and the like. Hardly "archival" standards. Hardly meant to be used 100+ yrs later. They were in traveologues and book paste-up story boards. Adhesive stuck all over them. Text stuck to them...god knows what happened to the negs or plates. They're all dust now even if they survived. There is no conservation on earth that can save these. Only stabilize them. They tell the story though--just looking at the originals is such a different experience than the many coynegs we've shot and have used over the years for publications. This is a real-life museum collection, from my point of view. You can't control everything that comes to you, but you can try to control it after.

    Conservators? They conserve. Archivists and preservation managers--they're more responsible for material selection. They work in archives, not museums. There's a difference. One clue can be found in reformatting programs---look at how they handle the original, and what the final goals are. Think about this in relation to a museum, or a library. This is your discussion really--what is an artifact? the actual object--work of "art"? Or the information.

    Sorry to get wonky--too much coffee before work I guess.

  3. #43
    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    Processed to "Museum Archival Standards"

    not wonky at all ... those are all good points. there's absolutely a difference between an art museum and an archive, an art object and information. An institution that stores historical information on microfiche is probably not one that collects beeswax on human hair. but there's probably a lot of overlap and gray area, too ...

  4. #44

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    Processed to "Museum Archival Standards"

    If you say something like "processed to museum standards"? this doesn't mean anything really--since museums collect, rather than produce. if there was a standard, that stipulated that museums would only collect the most stable objects? well, there'd be almost no museum collections--there certainly wouldn't be much career opportunities for conservators, that's for sure....

    "archival standards" might be a better term to use, that's what I mean by look at the archive. same way for the building surveys. they are taking an unstable item, whether a book or a newspaper, or an old building and documenting it onto a more stable medium, then making preservation masters and working duplicates for access. But all this is not "fine art"--it's producing a preservation master.

    if you think about the object? in the archive, the original will be stored away with limited access and copies will be used instead. in a library, the original might actually be copied and then thrown away (this might happen in an archive as well)--the master copies take the place of the original, and so-called surrogate duplicates are used to disiminate this information. in a museum--the object is treated like an artifact. It can be copied and reproduced if necessary in some form or the other, if it's too fragile for display, or it might be temporarily shown, and then rotated in & out of storage for safety as well. But it's not like the thing that gets copied and then thrown away.

    I had a hard time with these concepts at first---I remember working on a project, where the thing I had to photograph had been salvaged out of a dumpster from another reformatting project. I learned after some time though, that in the end, the goal is the same. To preserve--only it's accomplished in different ways based on the nature of the work. I also grew to understand the burden of trying to save stuff--the obligation that goes with it. It's very complicated in some ways, and it's not something that many people outside of working in a museum or an archive can actually understand.

    Having a one-of-a-kind, work of art is good for private collectors or art galleries, or the artists themselves. On the other hand, having a one-of-a-kind severely limits it's use to the general public. What good is it to collect something that nobody will ever see, or learn from? There is no answer to any of this--it's just kind of a soul-searching way to look at it.

  5. #45
    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    Processed to "Museum Archival Standards"

    Your last point might be worthy of its own thread. It's certainly one of the reasons a lot of people have suggested that the book is the ideal final form for photography.

  6. #46
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    Processed to "Museum Archival Standards"

    It's certainly one of the reasons a lot of people have suggested that the book is the ideal final form for photography.

    I think this is a great point, not sufficiently appreciated. When the book production is done by someone who really knows what he's doing, the result can be an object beautiful in its own right, not merely a second-best reproduction of something else. William Clift's Hudson Landscape is one of my favorites in this respect, but I'm sure people here could come up with other examples.

  7. #47

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    Processed to "Museum Archival Standards"

    well, it was just a random thought...everyone thinks that way now & then...I worked on something recently, where I had to cull through some files. one thing I've always had to do was to shoot b/w negs for a longterm documenation file. anyways, I had to weed out some inactive files, and pulled a couple of thousand negs out. The bulk of them, I've never even seen before, and I was filing negs around them for over a decade. So--I was thinking about those people that shot those negs, that never get used, but sit in a file forever. How are they different from what I produce? Well--I shoot 4x5 for one, most of these were 35mm or 120, and not made by trained photographers. They have some quality issues--which is why primarily they were not being used, but at the same time they were kept because the objects have never been pulled and photographed again. Maybe some have been loaned out and aren't readily available. Maybe some are lost even. So this is what remains. You know it's boring work digging through files one by one, by hand for a couple of days straight. your mind wanders....you think of the next person, twenty, thirty years from now, going through what your negs and wondering what the heck the stuff is and why you're keeping it.

    it's the same way with the objects, only worse almost, since it's a formidable task to deaccession an item. Then about every one of them is unique in some way, juts like the one of a kind art object. Then you have time, money and space issues associated with them coupled in with changing tastes and attitudes--so it all comes down to the fact that a lot of things will probably never be displayed. It's kind of frustrating in some ways, but I know every museum is like this. about all I can say about that...

  8. #48
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    Processed to "Museum Archival Standards"

    Actually, I'm surprised no one has brought up the Image Permanence Institute. Their home page is:

    http://www.imagepermanenceinstitute.org/sub_pages/8contents.htm

    I'd highly recommend anyone interested in archival processing poke around their web site a bit.

    As to "archival standards," unfortunately, most archives set their own standards. I was the photo-conservator/preservation photographer for the Arizona Historical Society for a few years, (1985-`91). One reason I left was that the administrators figured out that they could let photographs decompose or be "accidentally" damaged beyond use, then file a loss claim with the state's Office of Risk Management. Great fund-raiser...
    "I love my Verito lens, but I always have to sharpen everything in Photoshop..."

  9. #49

    Processed to "Museum Archival Standards"

    I've been cleaning out my attic for a move and I am finding hundreds of silver prints that are about 100+ years old that look like new. These were commerically processed for the most part. These have had aweful storage conditions?!? I also have prints made in the late 50's by me and they are in good shape, processed with Kodak Tri-packs!

    Seeing is believing!

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