Sustaining Knowledge of the Materials of Photography through Research & Education

Axial Lighting SetupThe Image Permanence Institute has received a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to collect, refine, and disseminate knowledge about the material nature of photographs in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. Photography as a chemical technology has given way in recent years to digital imaging. As traditional photography disappears, the firsthand experience of photography’s original chemistry, processes, materials, and aesthetics begin to vanish as well. It is therefore important to gather and record the significant aspects of what will soon be photography’s past. This three-year project includes research and documentation of the material nature of photographic and photomechanical objects; outreach to current and potential audiences; and internships for young professionals in the field of photograph preservation.

Sophisticated imaging techniques will be used to illustrate the physical characteristics and inherent qualities of photographic materials. Text will explain the technical differences of the processes and guidance will be given on how to identify the technique used to make a photograph. This knowledge will be disseminated through IPI’s online resource, Graphics Atlas provides a unique platform to study and examine photographic processes and is a valuable teaching tool for conservators, archivists, and university educators.

Project staff will be reaching out to current and potential audiences of Graphics Atlas in an effort to better understand their needs and help expand the site's audience and usefulness. The site’s audience, which includes conservators, educators, curators, and catalogers, has different needs and it is important to make the resource useful and educational for them. The project includes a series of webinars designed for these audiences and three workshops to be held in Rochester for professionals interested in learning about and contributing to the online resource.

Alice Carver-Kubik, who has a Master of Arts in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management from the Ryerson University/George Eastman House and a Bachelor of Arts in Art History, Photography and Related Media from Purdue University, is the Photographic Research Scientist focused on the project. Alyssa Marzolf, with a Master of Fine Arts from Columbia College and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Professional Photographic Illustration from Rochester Institute of Technology, was hired as the Imaging/Microscopy Technician.

Project funds will be used for two 15-month internships for young professionals considering photograph conservation or related fields. The interns will assist in developing content for the website and preparation of outreach materials to extend its audience. Interns will gain a thorough knowledge of imaging techniques, the history and techniques of photographic processes, and the types and mechanisms of deterioration associated with each process.

If you aren’t familiar with Graphics Atlas please visit: If you are familiar with the site, we encourage you to give us your input. We have developed a survey for Graphics Atlas users to help us identify our audience(s), better understand how people are using the site, and determine the best ways to add to and improve the site.  Follow this link to the survey: