Care and identification of photographs workshop

By Sally August, Museum Development Officer – North Island, National Services Te Paerangi 

The Care and Identification of Photographs workshop was held at Auckland Public Library, on 4-5 and 7-8 February 2013. 

Auckland Public Library. Image courtesy of Sally August.

This was an advanced workshop, suited to museum, gallery, library, and archives staff with a good knowledge of photographic collections, processes, and cataloguing. It was interesting to note that a good number of the attendees in Auckland were, or had been, practicing photographers. They had a working knowledge of photographic production, including an understanding of darkroom techniques and material types. One of the attendees was currently experimenting with the production of tintypes, which was very exciting. 

Image courtesy of Sally August.Image courtesy of Sally August.

Workshop presenter, US conservator Gawain Weaver, is a very experienced, personable, and passionate photographic conservator. He has an exceptional talent for making the complex and variable aspects of photography understandable. For those of us who had not done chemistry since high school, it was good to discover that the old brain could still understand the formulas that Gawain explained during the workshop!

 Getting hands-on with photographs. Image courtesy of Sally August.

 Getting hands-on with photographs from throughout the ages

This four-day workshop was loaded with rich content. And we powered through it. All attendees got the chance to get hands-on with Gawain’s educational collections. This experience enabled us not only to see examples but also to examine them close up with our handheld microscopes. It was valuable to understand how the results of each photographic process look different, with particular signature marks.

A selection of daguerreotypes and ambrotypes. Image courtesy of Sally August. A selection of daguerreotypes and ambrotypes, showing differing plate sizes, matts designs, hallmarks, case designs, and material properties

Below are just some of the processes and topics we covered during this outstanding workshop: 

  • daguerreotypes
  • albumen
  • matte collodion
  • gelatin silver
  • photogravure
  • collodion and gelatin printing-out processes
  • offset litho
  • letterpress halftone
  • collotypes
  • chromogenic color
  • inkjet digital
  • dye sublimation
  • negative formats and materials
  • correct storage and handling of photographs and negatives
  • causes of deterioration
  • cold storage for certain photographic materials.

There were also group ID sessions, in which we used digital microscopes and screen projections to improve our identification skills.

Helpful Resources

If, from time-to-time, you struggle to identify photographic collections that you’re cataloguing or you question the best methods for cold storage, I’m sure the following websites will be of great assistance:

The Graphics Atlas website was developed by the Image Permanence Institute (IPI). Having a photographic sample in front of you can be a very helpful when you’re trying to identify which type of photograph you are assessing and/or cataloguing.  

The National Park Service website has everything you need to know about cold storage of negatives. A number of ‘how-to’ videos show you what to do to ensure the long-term preservation of film based photographic collections. 

Watch the how-to videos.

Explore National Services Te Paerangi’s collection of photographic conservation resources.

Please contact National Services Te Paerangi on or free phone 0508 NSTP HELP (0508 678 743) if you have any questions about caring for photographs.

Photographic toner types. Image courtesy of Sally August.Looking at photographic toner types. Image courtesy of Sally August.

Looking at the types of photographic toners that have been used; including gold, sulphur (commonly known as sepia tone), selenuim, etc

if you are interested in finding out more about Gawain’s work and workshops, please refer to his website: