Through the Conservation Keyhole: Conservation analysis and basic conservation treatment for archive’s photographs collection, part 2 – Brittany Johnston

Hello, its Brittany again. I am a student completing a work placement at the Archive Services as part of my masters in Technical Art History. My twenty days here are almost over, so I wanted to share what I’ve been doing here the past few weeks.


Robertson Family Portrait, c. 1860, 12.3 x 16.7 x 0.5 cm, DC253/1/8

In my last post I talked about all of the work that I had been doing up to that point. I talked about writing condition reports, cleaning and repackaging photographs, and quite a bit about a series of ambrotypes that I had been working on. Since then, I have used DinoCapture software with a USB microscope (Dino Lite) to take photographs of the ambrotypes at high magnification, allowing me to see clearer the types of damages that were visible in these photographs. It was difficult to use this equipment at first as it was quite tricky to focus it properly, but once I got the hang of it, I was amazed at the types of images that I could capture with it. A few from the series had deteriorated far more than the others, so I focused on taking pictures of these, as they were probably an indication of what will eventually happen to the others in the series. One ambrotype in particular (a family portrait from c. 1860) had many surface cracks and losses concentrated in the left half of the photograph. While it was obvious just by looking at the photograph that it was very damaged, the microscope made the scope of that damage even clearer.

Some of the images that I captured were so interesting that I added them to the Flickr album I had made of the ambrotypes. I also added a few extra pictures of some of the collection that I had not put up previously, including some images of the damages and deterioration that occurred. I felt that these additions really rounded the album out, as they gave a clearer idea of the condition that the ambrotypes are in today.


Details of Robertson Family Portrait, c. 1860, DC253/1/8

Since then, I have continued to do some condition reports for a few other photographs in the Archive’s collection, but have mostly been focusing on using DinoCapture to look at details and damages on photographs. I have been looking at a selection of different types of photographs (silver print, albumen, reproductions) from different time periods in order to assess the damages to them, but also to compare them with each other. The surface texture and quality, as well as the types of damages and deterioration that I have observed vary greatly from photograph to photograph. There are some aspects though – such as scratches on the surfaces, and damage to the edges – that are observable across the different mediums and time periods. It is also very interesting to see details in the photograph that I did not notice by just looking at it (for example, the pattern on a man’s tie, or a label on a field hockey stick). Using this USB microscope, I was able to gain a better understanding of the photographs, and the types of deteriorations that I was seeing.


Using USB Microscope to look at photograph. (DC233 2/22/1/5/3

One photograph that particularly caught my attention was a series of images of the Alexander, Fergusson and Company Glasgow Lead and Colour Works from the late 19th century. The 16 photographs mounted onto a thick paper board showed various areas of the factory including the Colour Houses and Drying Stoves, White Lead Factory Corroding Chambers, Red Lead Furnaces, and Oil and Turpentine Paint Stores. As a Technical Art History student, I have learned a great deal about how pigments and paints have been produced across various historical periods, so it was incredibly interesting for me to see an example of that right here in Glasgow, documented in a set of photographs.


Photograph of Glasgow Lead and Colour Works (60.5 x 73.4 cm) with detail photograph taken with Dino Lite digital microscope. UGD258/7/2

I have very much enjoyed my time at the Archive Services, and I feel that I have learnt a great deal about early photographic processes and the types of damages and deteriorations that can occur with them. Thank you to everyone at the University of Glasgow Archive Services for making me feel welcome! 🙂

Categories: Archive Services, Library

1 reply


  1. Through conservation keyhole: engage with photography! – University of Glasgow Library

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