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In mid-October, I spent three days soaking up the science of image preservation and conservation at the Image Permanence Institute, located at the Rochester Institute of Technology in upstate New York. I am relatively science-minded (for an English major) and am fascinated by the work of IPI in general and the workshop specifically, which focused on digital image creation and care. The participants came from Australia, Peru and, you know, Urbana-Champaign, which gave us fun topics for breaks besides the microscopic patterns of offset lithographs (also fun!).

Testing the reaction of different inks and printing methods in water

The work of IPI outside of its workshops is worth highlighting, because their expertise is available widely. They manage the Graphics Atlas, which can be used to identify images throughout the history of photography. IPI’s Digital Print Preservation Portal focuses specifically on digitally created works; given digital’s relative “youth,” we are learning on the fly about the best ways to create, care for, and restore digitally printed images. Tip: when in doubt, treat a digital print like its analog counterparts.

“Digital image” is a concept without definitive definition, but for the workshop’s purposes, it included prints made using digital technology, whether that meant an electronic file or a digital printing method instead of an analog one (for example, an inkjet printer in lieu of a printing press). Skilled IPI faculty members Daniel Burge, Doug Nishimura, and Andrea Venosa guided us through lectures on the analog and digital methods of image creation; lab experiments where we destroyed different print types, pictured above; more labs where we practiced IDing print methods and substrates (typically paper or canvas) to provide correct care; and more lectures about identifying and preserving all kinds of prints, digital or not. Now I’m well-prepared to put all of SCA’s prints under my new pocket microscopes!

After the workshop, a few members of my cohort piled into a car and took a quick trip to the George Eastman House, a museum of photography and historic home. Archivists and conservators both speak about it in hushed tones, and indeed there was a lot of photographic and film equipment that I’d never had the chance to see in real life. If you’re into obsolete technologies, put the Eastman House on your list!