PMG Section 1.7 Traveling Photographic Exhibits and Loans

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Photographic Materials Conservation Catalog
Exhibition Guidelines for Photographic Materials

Date: July 2004
Contributors to WIKI version: Your name could go here!
Compiler: Stephanie Watkins, 1993-2004
Initiator: Douglas Severson, 1992-1993
Contributors (Alphabetical): Catherine Ackerman, Nancy Ash, Sarah Bertalan, Jean-Louis Bigourdan, Barbara N. Brown, Ed Buffaloe, Carol Crawford, Corinne Dune, Thomas M. Edmondson, Debra Evans, Julia Fenn, Betty Fiske, Gwenola Furic, Judy Greenfield, Doris Hamburg, Marc Harnly, Pamela Hatchfield, Cathy Henderson, Nancy Heugh, Ana Hofmann, Emily Klayman Jacobson, Martin Jürgens, Nora Kennedy, Daria Keynan, Lyn Koehnline, Barbara Lemmen, Holly Maxson, Constance McCabe, John McElhone, Cecile Mear, Jennifer Jae Mentzer, Jesse Munn, Rachel Mustalish, Douglas Nishimura, Leslie Paisley, Sylvie Pénichon, Hugh Phibbs, Dr. Boris Pretzel, Dr. Chandra Reedy, Nancy Reinhold, Andrew Robb, Grant Romer, Kimberly Schenck, Douglas Severson, Tracey Shields, Angela Thompson, Sarah Wagner, Clara von Waldthausen, Dr. Mike Ware, Stephanie Watkins, Dr. Paul Whitmore, Faith Zieske, Edward Zinn.

First edition copyright: 2004. The Photographic Materials Conservation Catalog is a publication of the Photographic Materials Group of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. The Photographic Materials Conservation Catalog is published as a convenience for the members of the Photographic Materials Group. Publication does not endorse nor recommend any treatments, methods, or techniques described herein.

Traveling Photographic Exhibitions and Loans[edit | edit source]

Considerations and loan agreements[edit | edit source]

The potential for physical damage from handling increases with the frequency of exhibition and number of venues. Damage can occur from handling during preparation, installation, de­installation, transportation, or neglect during holding periods and locations between sites.

A "Standard Facility Report" is available from the American Association of Museums (AAM). This document and others like it can be helpful in determining suitability of sites for display of photographic materials. Specific requests for photographic materials can be made by item and, generally, are negotiated before loan agreements are reached. "Specific requests for photographic materials" might include materials for cases, lighting type and configuration, or temperature and relative humidity ranges permissible. Also potentially negotiated are the loan fees, insurance, duplication rights, couriers, method of transportation, and packing parameters, among other concerns.

It will be possible to determine whether a venue to which an exhibition is traveling has suitable air purification systems by obtaining the facilities report or speaking with the institution's building maintenance crew. Very few institutions, however, have standards on air quality at present.

Documentation of condition[edit | edit source]

Damage assessment logs or notebooks with all the images represented are essential for multi­venue travel. For easy assessment of condition for non-conservation personnel, note existing damage on a visual printout of the image or use poly (ethylene terephthalate) (e.g., MYLAR® Type D, Melinex® 516) overlays or sleeves with existing with a permanent film marking pen (e.g., Sharpie®, Light Impressions™ 2631, etc.) over outlined scale images, photocopies, or duplications. Placing each report in a polyester sleeve will keep written information with a visual duplication or overlay. Checklists are easier than forms with only blank spaces for comments. Some institutions request that copies of the assessment logs be returned to them at each venue. The person inspecting the condition upon arrival should also check condition upon departure. For visually oriented persons, visual observations can be more accurate than written information. Likewise, photographic documentation before travel can be extremely useful as a comparative tool.

Possible items to include in the documentation:

  • institutional name, address, and phone number (owner/ contact person)
  • name of show and venues (name, address, and phone number)
  • crate number and size
  • crate/package construction and instructions for safe disassembly
  • identification number of item
  • artist's name
  • title of item
  • date or era of item
  • medium/format
  • dimensions of item
  • inscriptions on item
  • housing (kind of hinging or mounting, matting, frame, case, etc.)
  • picture (photograph or photocopy) of item
  • copy with translucent or transparent overlay with damages noted
  • area for condition: incoming
  • venue name
  • date
  • signature of inspector
  • area for condition: outgoing
  • venue
  • date
  • signature of inspector
  • record of monitoring equipment data readings (if monitoring equipment is included)

A template for each item should be made if they will be tested with monitoring equipment such as a densitometer. Listing one item per page is useful. Concise descriptions are preferred over general assessments. (e.g., "one quarter-inch tear along upper right edge" versus "good condition, minor damage"). It is advisable to note what is visible after matting and framing and to make particular note of any conditions that could occur during travel. Condition reports should be written so that non-conservation professionals can follow and understand them. During a traveling exhibition, someone unfamiliar with the item at another venue should be able to determine whether any change or damage has occurred during transit or exhibition time. Visual documentation included with written descriptions is helpful. Possible contents of a travel log and checklist can note loss, tear, abrasion-rub, crease, stain-soiling, handling marks, accretions, smudge, marring-surface sheen, mirroring, scratches, scar-dent, rippling­wrinkling, distortion-buckling, broken glass, hinge failure, insect infestation, moisture and mold damage, etc., along with denoting the location of damage and date noticed.

Preparations for transport[edit | edit source]

Glazing[edit | edit source]

For transit, acrylic glazing or shatter-resistant glass (a laminate of glass and plastic) is recommended over single sheets of glass (Phibbs 1996). Glass can break easily, and even the smallest of shards can extensively cut and abrade many photographic materials. Acrylic glazing is less likely to crack and break during transit; it should not be taped. Acrylic glazing can be subject to horizontal deflection. As the sheet size increases so does the potential bowing and sagging. A minimum of 3 mm (0.118 inch) thickness in acrylic sheeting is recommended. Transporting materials framed with acrylic glazing vertically, rather than flat, will reduce the risk of the glazing contacting the photograph, but will increase the strain on mounts and hinges.

Face-mounted photographs pose handling challenges. Most of the damage observed in collections is physical in nature and was inflicted during handling or transportation. Poly (methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) sheets are easily scratched, and prints can be physically damaged from the reverse. Therefore, it is imperative that extreme care be taken when handling face-mounted photographs, especially as these are often large and heavy. The addition of a sheet of clear, corrugated poly (propylene) to the back of the photograph is suggested for prints without any backing. This lightweight material provides a backing protection that does not interfere with the visual aspect of the print. As with other plastic glazing, PMMA should not have pressure-sensitive tape applied to the face.

A sufficiently deep separator from the glazing, whether a mat or secured spacers, can ensure that abrasion, ferrotyping, attachment, and other damages do not occur during transit.

Do not use pressure-sensitive tapes over the cover glass of cased photographs, as is often recommended for transporting items framed under glass. If the cover of a cased item is missing, a cover should be created to reduce the chance of glass breakage from possible impacts and shocks during transportation. Covers can be made of numerous rigid supports such as museum board or good-quality corrugated boards.

Convex glass presents special transit problems. Two solutions are a form-fitting Ethafoam® support for the glazing and unframing for separate transportation.

Matting[edit | edit source]

Float-matted photographs (all edges are visible within the window mat) should be reinforced (either with hinges or with photographic corners) at all four corners, most effectively at the top and loosely at the lower left and right sides. This arrangement helps equalize travel stress and jarring from all four directions, and it prevents the photograph from shifting into the edge of the mat window or lifting because of a potential electrostatic charge of the plastic glazing.

Images larger than 16 x 20 inch (40.6 x 50.8 cm) need an 8-ply mat or at least a 1/4 inch (0.6 cm) spacing from the plastic glazing, more if the photograph is not flat nor mounted. Very large images need much more space due to the capacity for plastic glazing to bow and flex with travel vibrations and backings to bow with humidity changes.

Photographs that have heavy paper supports or are mounted to rigid supports should be placed in sink mats (Bertalan and Phibbs 1988) to provide necessary support and help reduce the danger of the item being crushed or abraded during handling or transit.

Framing[edit | edit source]

The order of materials for framing is: glazing (plastic for travel; see sections on glazing and plastics), minimum 4-ply window mat and backboard (non-lignin, alkaline or non-alkaline as necessary, "rag," museum, or zeolite molecular trap board), secondary rigid support, seal around the housing perimeter edges before placing into the frame. Hardware holds the matting package in the frame, and the back of the frame is sealed with a dust cover and moisture seal (polyester film, anodized aluminum, etc.) and hanging hardware (if necessary).

Metal frames seem to travel better structurally than wood frames, whose corner joints may weaken from ordinary, unavoidable knocks in handling. Good-quality wood frames with reinforcing members (racks) can be sturdy, however. Even with the safest handling and padded travel crates, unsightly wear and scratches on frames and plastic glazing can be expected (see sections regarding glazing and framing). Large, heavy, oversize, or panoramic frames may need the additional structural support of strainers and stretchers on the reverse. Materials chosen for structural supports should be of the same quality as chosen for the rest of the frame package. In choosing framing materials and preparing sizes of mat boards and glazing, the potential factors of nominal shrinking and expansion should be taken into account. Wooden frames and mats and boards can expand as the humidity increases and contract as the humidity decreases. Phibbs contributed in 1997, that acrylic sheets can expand as the relative humidity level increases. Room should be allowed for the fluctuation in size of interior and exterior components without jeopardizing the sealing components of the matted and framed package.

Wilhelm (1993, 517) recommends against creating venting holes for framed materials. Materials used for framing should be of sufficient quality not to need venting or off-gassing, and holes in the dust cover can allow dust, insect infestation, pollution, and more rapid moisture fluctuations to occur. A barrier, divider, or separation (such as a window mat) between the photographic material and glazing should provide enough space if condensation occurs on the glazing.

Wrapping[edit | edit source]

A temporary vapor barrier wrapping, such as Dartek™, around the framed item can help reduce and slow down inherent changes in relative humidity as photographic material moves from one climatic area to another.

Packing[edit | edit source]

The goals of a good transportation package are to provide physical protection (cushioning, moisture-barrier, etc.) and chemical protection (from pollutants, interior off-gassing, etc.). Packing design and written instructions with the case can minimize damage possibilities. Packages not destined for crating ("soft-packing") require a stable temperature environment throughout transportation. Reducing the volume of air within inner packages reduces changes in the equilibrium moisture content (EMC). Saunders et a1. noted that minimizing EMC changes reduces possible adverse effects from changes in relative humidity fluctuations in the exterior or interior environment (RCL 1995). Placing hygroscopic materials in the interior package will help reduce changes in the interior EMC. Materials that are not moisture absorbent, such as metals, may be damaged by sudden temperature and moisture changes. Fluctuations can be reduced with the addition of materials such as boards, paper, or silica gel (Richard et a1. 1991, section 4) that will absorb and desorb moisture in the environment.

Large and oversize photographs on flexible bases may have to be rolled for transport. It is best to use the largest diameter roll (minimum 6 inches or 15.2 em) that can be safely handled and to roll the photograph in the direction of the existing curl. Rolling the photograph with the image face-in on the tube is traditional with paper supports and helps protect the image from handling damage. Rolling the photograph with the image face-out on the tube is traditional with cloth supports and prevents compression of multi­layered surfaces whether on cloth or paper. Wrapping the tube and separating multiple photographs on the same roll with an interleaving material can further protect items, but must be chosen with care. Soft emulsion layers can be scratched or burnished by abrasive surfaces, such as with silicon-release poly (ethylene terephthalate) (e.g. MYLAR® Type D, Melinex 516). In addition, paper can be made translucent through beating and processing or through the addition of additives (waxes, oils, etc.). In the past, glassine made translucent by chemical additives has been known to adversely interact with photographic processes while in storage and under high humidity conditions. Rolled photographs should be suspended within a box to prevent damage from the weight of the roll resting on the photograph.

Tests performed by Robb (2000, 75) "seem to indicate that sealing ink jet prints in humidity stable packages can reduce short-term risk from high humidity environments"; a situation that may be encountered during travel between venues.

Crating[edit | edit source]

Closed crates provide the best physical protection for photographic materials during transit. Traveling cases made from ribbed aluminum, fiberglass, or molded polypropylene, complete with sturdy handles and locks are safe for transporting photographic materials. Crating with inner cases improves insulation and mechanical protection during transportation, thereby minimizing damage. For example, cased photographs are easily shipped within carved Ethafoam® (or similar inert) packing materials within a case or crate. Paul Marcon and Thomas Strang of the Canadian Conservation Institute have developed "PadCAD Cushion Design" software to determine adequate packing protection. The software is available through CCI Publications. Air envelopes can be used to offer a soft-pack protection on framed items prior to casing. Bubble wrap may not be suitable for long-term packing and storage, as it may be coated with poly (vinylidene) chloride (PVDC), added to prevent deflation of the bubbles through the poly (ethylene). Bubble wrap without PVDC has a tendency to deflate when held against a flat item, thereby negating usefulness.

Crated material should "ride" face up or vertically in the orientation of hanging and labeled thus. Crating should be secured in the interior of the transportation mode so it will not bounce or move around during transport (Richard et al. 1991, section 5). The following are essential for multi-venue travel: padded, cushioned, slotted crates, or trays fitted to the frames, clearly labeled with which frame goes in each slot, crate lists on the lids, and condition notebooks with all the images represented. Sensors included in the case can indicate if environmental conditions have caused or contributed to any changes noticed with the photographic material (see section 1.7.5). Data loggers can be programmed to monitor relative humidity, temperature, light, and specific pollutants. Special indicating cards for relative humidity can be used in traveling cases if an indication of humidity is all that is required. The patches on these cards change color as the humidity level rises, but do not "de-color" at lower humidity levels. Freeze indicators are also available. Some shock and drop indicators are designed for resetting, so they can be reused. The readings are given as "G" forces, with the most sensitive ones available at 5G up to 100G designed for "heavy" products. Likewise, tip and tilt indicators are available. These change color when crates are placed on their sides or upside down but seem to tolerate tilting of crates to put on carts and hand trucks. All these sensors provide an indication of an event that has already happened. Many cannot indicate a precise location along the route when the event occurred, however, should that be deemed necessary information. It is important to remember that the sensors cannot mitigate the potential problem before it occurs.

Handling of objects[edit | edit source]

Those responsible for objects should identify the personnel who will be handling the materials, such as in-house or contractors, conservation professionals, preparators, exhibition handlers, and carrier and transport companies. Individuals preparing and transporting work for exhibition should be familiar with any unique or special handling demands or requests of photographic materials. Routine procedures for handling photographic materials include use of clean gloves, especially when handling metals and plastics, as these corrode and scratch easiest. Personnel should maintain clean hands as well, especially when wearing fabric or woven gloves, to reduce hand oils and sweat. Space and furniture needs are similar for all preparation areas: clean, dust-free rooms, clean, cushioned tables, uncluttered floor space, trays and cups to keep tools out of the way, and separate, designated areas for storage of packing materials and the pieces to be packed. When possible, crates and packages should be allowed to acclimatize for a minimum of 24 hours before unpacking.

Means of transportation[edit | edit source]

Whether transport is by airplane, automobile, or train, climate-controlled cabins rather than cargo-hold areas (when size permits) are preferred. "Air-ride" suspension trucks are also preferred. Sea travel is seldom used except for large and heavy items. If sea travel is chosen, crates should be stored in cargo hold instead of on deck. Hand carrying is suitable only for small items.

Couriers are recommended, especially for sensitive or fragile materials, extremely valuable items, items that could be misplaced (a small or single case object), items whose installation requires special procedures, or items that do not travel framed. In addition, these items will require arrangements for installation either by a conservator or experienced staff courier from the borrowing institution.

Couriers should have knowledge of the packing methods, be able to monitor the items during transitional stages of the trip (holding areas, etc.), and have the authority to make decisions en route should circumstances dictate. Ideally, institutions should avoid shipping and transporting unaccompanied items.

When a courier is not possible, it is essential to pack and insulate well and to choose an experienced specialized handler and a secure route of travel. The staff on the receiving end should be informed of the anticipated arrival. Insurance for the item (in the event of damage or loss) should be considered and the financial responsibility of each party along each step of the trip clearly defined.

Environment during transit[edit | edit source]

Ideally, the temperature and relative humidity in the preparation, packing, and crating areas will be similar to storage or display conditions to reduce expansion and contraction within the item. Those responsible need to be alert to differing micro-environments within the crating or preparation areas that can adversely affect photographic materials.

Consistent environmental levels should be kept at all the stops along the way as much as possible, including storage and holding areas, warehouses, and within the airplane or truck. Severson (1986, 40) notes that temperatures and relative humidity levels can change rapidly during transit. An airplane baggage compartment may get as cold as -40°F (-40°C), while the interior of a truck can reach as high as 120°F (48°C). Richard, Mecklenburg, and Merrill (1991, section 2) recommend temperature-controlled trucks or cargo trains and relative humidity-controlled cases to minimize the potential hazards to materials.

Transportation during seasonal extremes of temperature and weather (e.g. winter and summer) may require more elaborate protective measures than transportation during times of less extreme temperatures and weather conditions. During wintertime travel protection for relative humidity control can be insured with additional case insulation. The receiving venue's climatic differences and potential climatic changes along the route taken there should be considered during packing, crating, and transport (Richard et al. 1991, section 2). Rainfalls and regional relative humidity variances can occur suddenly (Severson 1986, 40).

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