Any visitor who comes in through the main entrance of George Eastman House will notice a large glass wall to the left. Through this glass you can see the Richard & Ronay Menschel Library, curatorial departments such as Motion Pictures, Photography and Technology, and a staircase that leads down to two more floors. While you don’t need to make an appointment to visit the Library (especially this summer, when due to a shelving project we are all enjoying a rare treat of the Library’s photo and cinema books and magazines temporarily relocated to our Entrance Gallery), you do need to make one to visit the archives that contain our spectacular collections.
From time to time, we host visitors where I work: the Kay R. Whitmore Conservation Center. A few weeks ago we took a small group of friends interested in preservation ‘behind the glass’ and one floor down for a special tour of the photograph conservation laboratory. The purpose of this visit was to raise awareness of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s challenge grant. Here’s some of what they saw:
A view of the Kay R. Whitmore Conservation Center.
An accelerated tarnish experiment testing daguerreotype enclosures.
The Conservator’s tools of the trade.
Conservation practices at Eastman House are critical to the care of photographs we have in the collection, exhibit in our galleries, or loan out to other museums. When the department was established in 1974, it was the first of its kind dedicated solely to photograph conservation. For nearly 40 years, our conservators, fellows, and interns have contributed to the preservation of history and culture — through photographic objects — at Eastman House and at institutions around the world.
In the Whitmore Conservation Center, we conduct research and report findings on Notes on Photographs , in journals or at conferences. We also hold workshops on historic photo processes for collectors, artists, curators, members or anyone interested in the history of photography (we even get a chance to go one more floor down to see choice examples in our photography collection). Eastman House is helping to ensure that photographs made since the beginning of the medium in 1839 through today will exist for as long as possible in order to visually tell our collective stories— and its these stories we love to share and discover behind the glass wall.
Stacey VanDenburgh is Manager of the Kay R. Whitmore Conservation Center at George Eastman House.