Development and Research Applications for a Reference Collection of 20th Century Photographic Paper
Independent Conservator of Photographs
March 19, 2010
View video (1:06:10 minutes)
About the Lecture:
The largest collection of its kind in the world, Paul Messier's reference collection of photographic papers was started in the late 1990s to provide an objective baseline for dating and authenticating photographic prints for scholars and connoisseurs. Samples typically enter the collection in manufacturer sample books or original manufacturer packages. Samples from 65 manufacturers, comprising over 360 brands, have been fully catalogued by manufacturer, brand, surface texture and reflectance. Containing over 5,000 samples, the collection was begun as a response to major authenticity scandals involving fraudulent prints of Man Ray and Lewis Hine photographs.
This lecture included an overview of the collection's contents and descriptions of notable studies to date that have drawn on this resource. These studies included a survey for optical brightening agents, an online catalog of manufacturer back printing, measurements of inorganic components in the baryta layer (in collaboration with the Getty Conservation Institute), paper fiber identification (in collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art) and the stability of optically brightened paper (in collaboration with the Art Conservation Research Center, Carnegie Mellon University).
Future research initiatives will include a survey of fluorescence behavior, a searchable catalog of surface textures and the creation of statistical algorithms for dating prints of questioned or unknown origin. Along with these and yet to be conceived research applications, the collection serves the intrinsically valuable function of preserving materials at the heart of 20th century photography.
About the Speaker:
Paul Messier is an independent conservator of photographs working in Boston Massachusetts, USA. The sustaining focus of his practice is the conservation treatment of fine art photographic prints. Increasingly authentication research and conservation surveys for clients worldwide are major additional pursuits. Authentication studies are largely based on an ongoing characterization of his reference collection of 20th century photographic paper performed in collaboration with institutions including the Getty Conservation Institute and the Museum of Modern Art. His research into the photographs of Lewis Hine resulted in a method useful for dating 20th century photographic papers, and received coverage from publications including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, ArtNews, the Economist and the Atlantic Monthly. He has consulted on major conservation surveys of large, decentralized, photograph collections including Harvard University, the Library of Congress, the State Hermitage Museum, Yale University and the New York Public Library. Each of these survey projects were funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Mr. Messier is an elected member on the board of the American Institute for Conservation and has served this organization in various capacities, including chairing the Publications Committee and founding the Electronic Media Group. He holds an A.B. cum laude in art history from Vassar College and an M.A. and Certificate of Advanced Study from the Art Conservation Program at Buffalo State College, State University of New York.