Online edition of India's National Newspaper
Monday, Mar 01, 2004

About Us
Contact Us
Metro Plus Delhi Published on Mondays & Thursdays

Features: Magazine | Literary Review | Life | Metro Plus | Open Page | Education Plus | Book Review | Business | SciTech | Entertainment | Young World | Property Plus | Quest | Folio |

Metro Plus    Bangalore    Chennai    Coimbatore    Delhi    Hyderabad    Kochi    Madurai    Thiruvananthapuram    Vijayawada    Visakhapatnam   

Printer Friendly Page Send this Article to a Friend

No photo finish

A photo may be worth a thousand words, but there is nothing immortal about it. ANJANA RAJAN speaks to James Stevenson and Russell Harris, experts in photographic documentation, preservation and restoration.



U.K. based photo preservation experts James Stevenson in New Delhi.

JAMES STEVENSON, manager of the photographic studio at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and Russell Harris, curator and author are considered experts in the science of preserving photographs. "We take photographs of the objects in the museum, and we've done that ever since the museum opened in 1856, and looked after and restored the photographs," says Stevenson, accounting for the institution's impressive reputation in this regard. He is swift to point out, however, "You have particular problems in India. The high humidity - that affects things more than anything else. The temperature makes it worse." But there is worse yet.

"What I wasn't expecting was that you have a lot of insects," he remarks. "We do have them, but not in such volume."

As silverfish, termites, cockroaches, ants, lizards and other denizens of Indian walls and crannies begin crawling round the mind, the mild observation takes on tragicomic proportions. Especially when you remember India's fungus-friendly climate and its bleary history of art preservation and restoration. Yet Stevenson and Harris protest that their effort should not be construed as two know-it-alls here to teach Indians how to take care of their old photographs.



Russell Harris

Ideally what is required to store photographs is a temperature and humidity-controlled environment. At the V&A Museum, explains Stevenson, the policy is to display exhibits for not longer than four months. With good quality glazed frames, air conditioning and constant monitoring of the relative humidity, the pictures suffer minimum damage. Since many of India's photographic treasures belong to private collections like descendents of royal families, and since even institutions suffer from acute paucity of funds, these ideal conditions are as good as impossible to establish.

However, says Stevenson, "Any form of protection is better than none." His simple suggestions include placing the photograph in an acid-free polyester sleeve, then in a box that is as airtight as possible, and then storing the box in a clean and dry cupboard. Obviously, this preparation should be done on a dry day, and never during the monsoon. In Delhi at the invitation of Roli Books, which is celebrating its 25th year with a series of events, the two gave talks and workshops for interested amateurs and professionals under the aegis of the British Council and were delighted with the response. "You've got untold treasures here," exclaims Harris. He is particularly bowled over by the specimens one of the workshop participants has brought with her from the collection of the royal family of Baroda. "It makes me almost ill with excitement, because if I had the funds I would take a plane and start working on them."

Since that is not feasible, he has a more practical suggestion. "My advice is, catalogue them and index them." A computer is not necessary, paper records will do, he emphasises. "Why should the people who come after you have to discover it all over again?"

Microfilm when available is a good way to preserve photographs, say the experts. If well looked after it can last up to 150 years. While manual restoration of photographs is a highly specialised and increasingly rare skill, digital restoration is easier. "Even I can do it," quips Harris. But he cautions photographers that all digital photos must be properly captioned. Just as photos in an album would be marked with a date and occasion, like "Mummy's birthday, July 4, 2004," he says, equally informative captions must be given to digital photos.

But India is about more than white ants and yellowing pictures for James Stevenson and Russell Harris "Please convey that we adore being in India," says Harris, and Stevenson is quick to agree.

Printer friendly page  
Send this article to Friends by E-Mail

Metro Plus    Bangalore    Chennai    Coimbatore    Delhi    Hyderabad    Kochi    Madurai    Thiruvananthapuram    Vijayawada    Visakhapatnam   

Features: Magazine | Literary Review | Life | Metro Plus | Open Page | Education Plus | Book Review | Business | SciTech | Entertainment | Young World | Property Plus | Quest | Folio |


The Hindu Group: Home | About Us | Copyright | Archives | Contacts | Subscription
Group Sites: The Hindu | Business Line | The Sportstar | Frontline | The Hindu eBooks | Home |

Comments to : thehindu@vsnl.com   Copyright 2004, The Hindu
Republication or redissemination of the contents of this screen are expressly prohibited without the written consent of The Hindu