When the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) began the initiative to train Central and Eastern European conservators in photograph conservation, there wasn't a single professional in the region who had been trained in this specialized field. At the same time, important collections of photographs were coming to light, many of which had been hidden away for safety during the Soviet era.
NEDCC worked in partnership with the Academy of Fine Arts and Design (AFAD) in Bratislava, Slovakia; the Conservation Center at New York University; and the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles, CA to offer a training program in photograph conservation for professors, conservators, and students in Central and Eastern Europe. An overall aim of the program has been to raise awareness among institutions about the preservation needs of the region's valuable photograph collections.
The photograph conservation training initiative began in 2000 when NEDCC Senior Paper Conservator Walter Newman, and Shelly Sass, Program Coordinator and Associate Professor at the Conservation Center, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, visited the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava to meet with faculty of the Academy's 50 year-old conservation program to discuss possible collaborations and training opportunities. During the visit, Mr. Newman also visited two wallpaper conservation projects that were underway in Austria and Germany with Boris Kvasnica, the Academy's newly appointed Paper Conservator. Mr. Kvasnica appreciated the opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences with an American conservator. Mr. Newman was impressed by the skill of the Slovakian conservators that he met, and felt that they would benefit from exposure to American approaches to conservation, especially in the area of preventive conservation.
In 2001, Boris Kvasnica was invited to participate in a week-long residency in paper conservation at NEDCC in Andover. At the end of his time at the Center, Mr. Kvasnica identified training in conservation of photographs as his region's most important need and suggested that Monique Fischer, NEDCC's Senior Photograph Conservator, teach a series of seminars at the Academy for graduate students and professionals in the region. The resulting exchange program was made possible by generous support from the Trust for Mutual Understanding, The Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the Getty Foundation, and the Tianaderrah Foundation.
In 2003, the first week-long Photograph Conservation Workshop was held in Bratislava for a group of students of the Academy of Fine Arts and Design led by NEDCC's Senior Photograph Conservator Monique Fischer. Then, each year from 2005 to 2008, week-long International Photograph Conservation Workshops were hosted by the AFAD for a group of about 20 conservators, professors, and students who were invited to attend from the surrounding countries. The workshops provided an overview of the history of photographic processes, as well as sessions on photograph identification, preservation, and conservation. Each year the workshop concentrated on a different aspect of photograph conservation. The 2005 workshop was a general introduction to the conservation of photographs, while the 2006 workshop spotlighted preventive conservation and identification of photographic processes. The 2007 and 2008 workshops focused on specific themes such as the conservation of silver gelatin photographs and cased images. The workshops combined lectures and demonstrations with round-table discussions, student presentations, and field trips in the region. One of the unexpected benefits was a new international network of professional connections among the participants, many of whom attended all the workshops.
Participants for the international workshops came from Slovakia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro, Poland, the Czech Republic, Russia, and Hungary.
Speakers for the four workshops included, Monique Fischer, NEDCC Senior Photographs Conservator, Dr. Dusan Stulik, Senior Scientist, Getty Conservation Institute; Boris Kvasnica, Head of the Paper Conservation Department, Academy of Fine Arts and Design; Nora Kennedy, Sherman Fairchild Conservator of Photographs, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Mia Fineman, Photograph Conservator, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Ralph Weigandt, Assistant Director of Conservation Education at the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House; Jana Krizanova, AFAD faculty; Barbara Burianova, AFAD faculty; Dipl. Ing. Jozef Hanus, Head, Department of Archival Preservation, Slovak National Archives; Private Collector Pavel Blazo, and Tatiana Eichler, Executive Director CEIAP, Bratislava.
The first Photograph Conservation Institute took place at NEDCC in 2004. NEDCC selected participants from previous training efforts in the region for the first Institute, and sought out experienced paper conservators who taught in formal academic programs or who provided mid-career training in informal settings.
Each year from 2005 to 2008, four Institute participants were chosen from the Bratislava workshop attendees to travel to NEDCC in Andover, Massachusetts, for a three-week long, intensive Photograph Conservation Institute, where they received in-depth training. The students reviewed the history of photography and the deterioration of different types of photographs. They studied identification of different photographic processes, a crucial skill in photograph conservation. All-day sessions gave students ample opportunity for hands-on practice of treatment techniques under the close supervision of faculty members.
The students also visited conservation labs and museums in New England, including the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, and the Weisman Preservation Center at Harvard University. The students traveled to New York City every year for a behind-the-scenes tour of the photograph conservation lab at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, hosted by Nora Kennedy, Sherman Fairchild Conservator of Photographs. Many of the students remarked that the trips were among the most valuable activities of the Institute, because they were able to see how different labs were set up and the variety of equipment used by American conservators.
Participants for the Photograph Conservation Institutes came from Bulgaria, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Russia, Hungary, Serbia, Poland, and Estonia.
The next phase in NEDCC's training initiative for Central and Eastern European conservation professionals began in 2010 with the Center's first Photograph Conservation Internship, funded by the Trust for Mutual Understanding and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. The internship was designed to provide advanced hands-on training for one individual in photograph conservation, so that he or she could become a professional resource for consultations and further training in the region. The program responded to the need for more in-depth training and practical experience for photograph conservators in Eastern Europe.
Alexander Vatov served as NEDCC's 2010 intern. He is a conservator at the National History Museum in Sofia, Bulgaria. During his internship, Alexander observed ongoing treatments on a variety of materials in the laboratory. He visited other conservation labs and museums in the region, and had the opportunity to participate in a workshop on the Characterization of Silver Gelatin Photographs, presented in New York City by the American Institute for Conservation.
NEDCC's 2011 Photograph Conservation Intern was Hrvoje Gržina, an archivist in the Department for Photograph Collections at the Croatian State Archives, in Zagreb, Croatia. His responsibilities include care and preservation of the significant photograph collections at the archives. During the internship, he concentrated on the identification of photographic processes, a skill that is essential in the treatment and preservation of the Archives' wide range of photographic materials. He also practiced conservation treatment techniques and received training in conducting surveys of photograph collections.
Lidija Pajevik was The Center's 2012 Photograph Conservation Intern. Lidija is the Project Manager at the Macedonian Center for Photography in Skopje, Macedonia where she is responsible for the development and maintenance of the MCP's photographic collections. The Macedonian Center for Photography is one of the major photograph collection holding institutions in the Republic of Macedonia, and houses an extensive archive of over 220,000 photographic works. The collection documents the history of Macedonia in the last century, including the late period of the Ottoman Empire, the Balkan Wars, World War II, and the period of communism.
Lidija commented on the value of the program: "The internship had a very strong impact on my professional development as a conservation practitioner, enabling me to improve the knowledge and skills in photograph conservation, and helping me to better understand where I should focus my future efforts. The most valuable part of the program for me was the supervised hands-on practice in the NEDCC lab and the work with instructor Monique Fischer. "
Balázs Zoltán Tóth, of Szeged, Hungary,was the 2013 Photograph Conservation Intern. Balázs is a colleague at the Hungarian Museum of Photography in Kecskemét where he has had eight years of experience as a research fellow and archivist. The Hungarian Museum of Photography is one of the most important art institutes in Hungary, and its collections include over one million photographs and other objects related to the field of photography, including original negatives, cameras, and darkroom accessories, as well as books, journals, audio materials, and other archive materials. The Museum serves researchers and is a training place for university students.
Balázs is dedicated to preserving Hungary’s historical photograph collections, as well as training young photographers in the skills that will ensure the preservation of the next generation’s photographs. He has been active for several years in the ‘Studio of Young Photographers,’ a professional association of young artists dealing with photography as a medium of expression, and he plans to hold a seminar for art students on preparing current photographic art to last for the long-term.
The 2014 intern was Martina Bagatin, an experienced paper conservator at the Central Laboratory for Conservation and Restoration at the Croatian State Archives in Zagreb, Croatia. The NEDCC internship came at a very opportune time for Martina, since she has recently been selected to serve as the primary photograph conservator at their lab. The Archives holds nearly 1,300,000 photographs and negatives in their collections, which range from early photography to modern digital prints.
The collections potentially benefitted by Martina’s internship extend well beyond the Croatian State Archives. “The Central Laboratory for Conservation and Restoration not only fulfills the needs of the Croatian State Archives,” she explains, “but it also serves the holders/owners of written and photographic heritage in Croatia, including regional archives, libraries, museums, and other cultural organizations, as well as individuals.”
Anna Seweryn, the 2015 Intern, is a paper and photograph conservator at the National Archives, Krakow, Poland, and at the National Digital Archives in Warsaw. The National Archives of Poland holds a significant collection of 19th and 20th century photographs, for which Anna has been appointed conservator. The Archives plans to establish a Centre of Conservation Competency within the next several years, and the experience and knowledge Anna has gained during the internship will be a great asset to the new program. The Centre will conduct research and offer training devoted to the preservation and conservation of archival materials.
Anna comments on the value of the internship: “After my internship I am much more confident in my conservation decisions, and I know that I can always count on the people I met at NEDCC to offer advice. I learned conservation techniques that were new to me, and improved my knowledge about developing storage of photographic collections; preparation of photographic materials for exhibition; and preparing survey reports for photographic collections, which is extremely important in my every day work. The internship gave me an opportunity to work with new conservation materials and equipment which I will include in my future work.”
Anna Aseeva has worked at the ROSPHOTO State Russian Museum and Exhibition Centre in Saint Petersburg since 2005. The ROSPHOTO collection includes unique materials that present an overview of the art of Russian photography, history of art styles and aesthetics, development of photographic techniques, and the evolution of technology. Anna explains, “ROSPHOTO is just 15 years old and is still forming its collection, which comes from private collections, bookstores, and institutions, and are purchased or donated.” ROSPHOTO cares for its own photograph collections, but also conserves collections belonging to other museums and archives, which lack the in-house expertise to treat photographs. As a result, Anna is one of the main conservators of photographs for the whole country. Like NEDCC, ROSPHOTO also provides workshops for museum archivists and conservators.
Anna brought her own study collection from Russia, so she was able to practice a variety of conservation techniques using these photographs, including surface cleaning, mending, flattening, washing, inpainting losses, creating protective housings, and hinging and matting.
Working in the conservation lab alongside NEDCC conservators was a highlight of the program for Anna. She explained that the training she received and the experiences she had while at NEDCC will forever shape her work and her life going forward. One of the most important things that the interns learn while working in the NEDCC conservation labs is the importance of collaboration and the value of generous sharing of knowledge between colleagues.
Over a twelve-year period, over 40 conservators, teachers, and graduate students from eleven countries have received training in photograph conservation through the NEDCC program. As a direct result of the program, the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava has built a reputation as an international center for advanced conservation training, and has established a new degree-granting program in photograph conservation that will help train emerging photograph conservators in the region. After attending the training programs, participants have given presentations for colleagues, provided consultations for the region's cultural heritage institutions, and have begun preserving the irreplaceable photographs that document the region's rich cultural history.
This program succeeds in bringing together conservation professionals from the Central and Eastern European countries to study photograph conservation, and the value of those new-found ties cannot be underestimated. Not only has the program provided a central collaborator through which professionals were able to develop the skills they need to help preserve the vast collections of historic photographs in their cultural institutions, but it also provided a forum for these individuals to continue to share ideas, skills, and experiences, and to develop life-long collaborative relationships that will have a lasting impact on the cultural heritage collections in the region.
Story by Julie Martin NEDCC
A version of this story appeared in IIC News in Conservation, International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, Issue 67, August 2018.