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Press Release

For Immediate Release

Tim Vitale
Paul Messier
Walter Henry
John Burke

Release date 2/13/01

Albumen Photography Website Launched

A new web site "Albumen Photographs: History, Science and Preservation" is now online at The site features 19th century primary source materials, contemporary research, a gallery, and video of albumen print manufacture. In addition, there is an interactive treatment forum for conservators to discuss preservation issues pertaining to albumen photographs. The site will be of interest to students, historians, scientists, curators, collection managers, and conservators.

The site was created through a partnership of art conservators backed by institutional support. Private conservators Timothy Vitale and Paul Messier conceived the site, secured its institutional backing and prepared much of the original content text, graphics and video. Walter Henry, Acting Head of Media Preservation, Stanford University Libraries, digitized most of the site's articles into HTML and serves as webmaster. John Burke, Chief Conservator, Oakland Museum of California, designed the graphical user interface and did most of the Perl and Javascript programming. The project was funded through a grant received from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. The site is hosted and maintained by the Stanford University Libraries. The nearly two-year project was sponsored by the Monterey Museum of Art under the direction of Richard Gadd.

The site is organized into the following key sections: Library, Science, Technology, Gallery, Video Clips and Treatment Forum.

The Library contains primary source material for the study of albumen prints with special emphasis on history, methods of manufacture, science and preservation. There are nearly 150 19th and 20th century articles and four complete monographs. Among the articles are significant 19th century works by Louis-Désiré Blanquart-Evrard, Mathew Carey Lea, Gustav LeGray, Oscar Rejlander and Henry Peach Robinson. The primary focus of the 20th century articles is preservation with notable articles by Valerie Baas, Klaus Hendricks, Paul Messier, James Reilly and Timothy Vitale. Monographs from the 19th century include Désiré van Monckhoven's A Popular Treatise on Photography (1863) and John Towler's The Silver Sunbeam (1864). The 20th century monographs are Robert Sobieszek's British Masters of the Albumen Print (1976) and James Reilly's The Albumen Salted Paper Book (1980). The Library is organized into twenty-three topics such as "Aesthetics," "Albumen Preparation," "Fixing and Washing" and "Conservation Research." Each topic has a narrative introduction. Each item in the library was converted into html, allowing keyword searches of all text. Paul Messier gathered many of the 19th century articles, designed the organizational structure of the library, secured necessary permissions and wrote the topic headings. Walter Henry digitized each article and monograph and wrote code to bind the library together and insure that it is maintained into the future.

The section on Science provides a short, non-technical summary of the materials science research performed by Timothy Vitale and Paul Messier at the Smithsonian's Conservation Analytical Laboratory through the years 1990 and 1992. The essay discusses the results of the treatment-based research, which showed that cracking in the albumen layer can be increased during water-based conservation treatments. In addition, the essay shows how the mechanical and physical properties of albumen govern this response to water and suggests how future research might focus on wetting and drying rates to control the negative effects of aqueous treatment.

The Technology section presents a synthesis describing how albumen printing fits into a historical context as an imaging medium. Key technical developments are described giving insight into how albumen photography became the dominant imaging medium for much of the 19th century. This section features extensive hyperlinked references to primary source material in the Library. The essays in the Scienceand Technology sections were written and illustrated by Timothy Vitale.

The Gallery currently contains five exhibitions with thumbnails linked to nearly 150 medium and high resolution JPEG images. The exhibitions are:

Paul Messier prepared the design and layout of the Gallery. Tim Vitale worked to develop the exhibitions and, notably, scanned and digitally restored the faded microfiche originally used to illustrate the British Master's monograph. The Gallery will continue to accept additional online exhibitions pertaining to albumen printing.

The site contains numerous Video Clips that illustrate the process of making albumen prints. The video shows master albumen printer Doug Munson of the Chicago Albumen Works working through each step of the process, from breaking eggs and separating the yolks to sensitizing the sheet and then on to exposure, toning and mounting. Each video clip is narrated by Munson and is linked to articles dealing with the various steps in the Library. Each clip runs for about 15-60 seconds. Timothy Vitale and Paul Messier shot the video using two Sony VX 1000 (miniDV) cameras. Timothy Vitale edited the clips and prepared them for presentation on the web using Apple Final Cut Pro 1.2.5 and Terran MediaCleaner EZ to render QuickTime movies. The site also contains video documenting an albumen print wetting and drying experiment using the environmental scanning electron microscope (ESEM) performed by Paul Messier and Timothy Vitale in 1991.

The Treatment Forum provides a vehicle for conservators to exchange information pertaining to the conservation treatment of albumen photographs. Modeled in part on the the Conservation Catalogs published by the Photographic Materials and the Book and Paper specialty groups of the American Institute for Conservation, the Treatment Forum allows photography conservators to provide their objective assessments of the various materials and techniques used in the course of a conservation treatment. The interchange of ideas within the Treatment Forum is accessible to all users while actual contributions to the Forum are limited to practicing conservators. In large part, the Treatment Forum is based on Timothy Vitale's work on the original Paper Conservation Catalog. The Forum utilizes DiscusWare Discus, a WWW discussion board application. Through Perl programming, John Burke customized the Discus application to better fit the needs of the Treatment Forum.

The authors are committed to developing the site over time, making it a truly comprehensive resource for scholars from various disciplines. Additions to the site are welcome. It is hoped that the "Albumen Photographs: History, Science and Preservation"will serve as a model for additional sites dealing with the history and preservation of photographic materials.

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