I’ve always been fascinated with the conservation process and how delicate and complex it is. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll enjoy this video from The Museum of Modern Art. In this video, conservator of photographs Lee Ann Daffner will guide you through a process of conserving one of the oldest objects in NoMA’s collection: an almost 200-year-old daguerreotype.
For us, it’s easy to print as many images as we want from a digital file or a 35mm negative film. But the image conserved in this video was projected directly onto a silver plate, making it unique and impossible to reprint. Something like instant photos today. The daguerreotype shows two scenes on a single plate: the Arch of Septimius Severus and Capitoline Lion in the Roman Forum, and it was taken in 1842 by Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey.
In the video, you can see that the photo has been damaged on the edges. Ms. Daffner explains that just like our silver jewelry: silver plates tarnish with time, too. However, unlike jewelry, silver plates can’t just be scrubbed and polished because that would damage the image. “Not only do you have to know the systems and materials and types of deterioration, but you need to know when to stop,” Daffner adds.
So, to preserve this photo from tarnishing any further, Daffner carefully cleans it from dust and any other particles. She uses a custom-made glass and metal frame to preserve the photo and prepare it for an exhibition. This particular image was kept in a wooden box, and the sulfur from wood likely caused it to tarnish on the edges. But properly protecting it from any harmful elements will prevent this image from tarnishing further.
Make sure to watch the entire video and learn more about conserving old photos. And if you’d like to see how other artworks are conserved at MoMA, you can find more videos on the museum’s YouTube channel.