Thanks to the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation I attended the Salted Paper Symposium at Harvard University to discuss the challenges associated with the characterisation, preservation and contemporary use of the salt print.
During one presentation, an equation to successfully identify and preserve early salt prints was suggested: Conservator + Curator + Scientist = Discovery. Information about the chemistry and process to create early salt prints is not always known because photographers sometimes withheld or did not kept these details. The roles expressed in the equation have been essential to the identification and preservation of these prints.
But what would the equation look like if changed to include photographers and applied to the contemporary context?
Contemporary approaches to salt printing were discussed from different perspectives during the symposium. Photographic practitioners presented their process for and research on salt printing and conservation challenges they’d identified. Conservators and curators also presented their conservation and preservation challenges, new conservation research and with scientists and technicians, useful analytical and identification methods. Valuable insights were shared and the challenges and importance of salt print conservation acknowledged. However, the connection between conservation and contemporary salt prints and the role photographers can and need to play in collaborative conservation efforts were topics not fully explored.
Symposia such as this offer an exciting platform to discuss these topics. They can also deliberately facilitate the relationship between artists and conservators with the objective of safeguarding photographic work now for the future. After all, prevention is better than cure.