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Student Blog: Photograph Conservation

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A student sits at a microscope and examines polaroid pictures.

​​

​Testing surface cleaning techniques on study collection sample materials (Image: Lee Ann Daffner)​

​I am currently completing my final year of graduate studies at the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC) specializing in photograph conservation and minoring in paper. This year, I have been dividing my time between two renowned institutions: the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and The Better Image. 

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A polaroid picture sits on a table next to several types of eraser.

​Testing surface cleaning techniques on study collection sample materials (Image: Ashley Stanford)​

Located in the heart of Midtown Manhattan since 1929, MoMA began collecting photography in 1930, soon followed by the founding of the Department of Photography under the stewardship of Beaumont Newhall in 1940. Over the decades, MoMA's photography collection has grown into one of the most esteemed in the world. The David Booth Conservation Center and Department oversees the preservation and conservation of MoMA's collection with various specialty labs, including paintings, objects, paper, time-based media, conservation science, and photography. Lee Ann Daffner, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Conservator of Photographs, supervises my internship placement. 

One of my favorite projects has been working with Lee Ann Daffner on the deinstallation of Annette Messager's My Vows, an assemblage of 400+ silver gelatin prints individually housed between glass and hung on string. This project involved working with art preparatory team members in a fast-paced gallery environment to deinstall each photograph, individually examine, and collectively treat 166 prints. Another fun project included researching and testing surface cleaning techniques for SX-70 Polaroid instant prints in order to inform my treatment of 80 photographs by Venezuelan performance artist-duo Yeni y Nan (Jennifer Hackshaw and Maria Luisa González). I have participated in curatorial consultations, led hands-on workshops for CUNY undergraduate students (“What is Art Conservation"), and performed spectrophotometric readings on photographs by Robert Frank for MoMA's upcoming exhibition Life Dances On: Robert Frank in Dialogue (Sep 15, 2024–Jan 11, 2025). 

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A sharp angle image of a swab lifting material from the edge of a photograph, showing the difference in surface sheen where the swab has been.

​Reducing adhesive residue on a silver gelatin print (Image: Ashley Stanford)​

​I am also concurrently interning at The Better Image, which is a private practice studio established in 1991 by Peter Mustardo and Nora Kennedy. The Better Image has two locations, one within the historic Milford Opera House along the Delaware River, and the other in Chelsea, New York City. The Better Image focuses on fine art and historic photographs and offers conservation treatment services, surveys, insurance claim support, emergency response, and disaster recovery.​

At The Better Image, I have had the opportunity to work on a diverse array of photographs from a range of clients from museums, artist estates and foundations to corporate clients, and individual collectors. Under the guidance of Peter Mustardo and Nancy Reinhold, I have gained invaluable hands-on experience in conservation treatment and learned firsthand about the intricate world of fine art conservation in a private practice setting. ​

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A broken edge of a purple print and the small piece of colored paper that will be used to fill the loss.

​Insert for a diazotype (Image: Ashley Stanford)​

One particularly challenging project at The Better Image has been assisting with the treatment and assemblage of Francesca Woodman's Blueprint for a Temple II, an awe-inspiring 14-foot-tall collage of 29 diazotype elements. The Better Image will also help to install this work at Gagosian, a commercial art gallery, later this month. I have also had the opportunity to work on the treatment of a large silver gelatin print embellished with sand by Anselm Keifer, four silver gelatin prints by Ming Smith, a platinum print by Karl Struss, a large chromogenic print by Philip-Lorca diCorcia, and family-owned nitrate negatives. 

While my training at the University of Delaware largely focused on the foundational aspects of 19th and early 20th century photographic processes, I have been excited for the opportunity to predominantly engage with contemporary photography during my third year. Being in New York City has also allowed me to explore contemporary and historic photographic arts in the city's numerous galleries and museums. Throughout my experience in both the dynamic museum environment and private practice studio, I have thoroughly appreciated the many opportunities available to expand my knowledge within the field of photograph conservation. Both placements offer unique challenges, contributing to my growth as a conservation professional. ​

— Ashley Stanford, WUDPAC Class of 2024

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A small piece of gelatine is used to apply consolidant to splattered dry material.

​Consolidating lifting emulsion on a silver gelatin photographic base (Image: Ashley Stanford)​

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In this blog post, WUDPAC class of 2024 Fellow Ashley Stanford talks about splitting her internship time between the Photograph Conservation Department at New York's Museum of Modern Art, and working with diverse clientele at The Better Image.
 
 
3/3/2024
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