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spacer spacer spacer spacer spacer May 21, 2009
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‘Legacy of Photography’ center created

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James Reilly

As traditional photography processes are passing into history, George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film and the Image Permanence Institute at RIT are launching a Center for the Legacy of Photography. The center, made possible by a $2 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, will focus on collecting and sharing knowledge about photographic materials of the past two centuries.

The goals of the Center for the Legacy of Photography are to articulate the importance of understanding silver halide photography, ensure the study of its uniqueness as a fine art and visual communication medium, and document its technology and materials.

The center’s work begins in July at the conclusion of the 10-year Advanced Residency Program in Photograph Conservation, which is building awareness among conservators as to the urgent need for advanced education and training opportunities in photograph conservation. A key focus of the center is to create a clear distinction between digital imaging and silver halide photography.

“The art of photography and the enormous archival record created by means of traditional photography represent a legacy that must be understood and preserved,” says Grant Romer, director of the Eastman House’s Advanced Residency Program. “As silver halide photography passes into history, with it will pass its industrial technology, its aesthetic and commercial context, and nearly all firsthand knowledge of its chemistry, materials and processes. We must understand and define the ways in which the material nature of silver-based photographs differs from that of digital images and to make clear that the preservation and interpretation of the two pose distinctly different challenges, originating in different material and cultural contexts.”

The center will create specialized information resources for teaching and learning about photographs and their preservation. It will directly inform the appreciation of photographs through a materials-based art history that unifies the technical and aesthetic understanding of photography. Its primary activities will include scientific and scholarly research, workshops and educational forums, and information sharing through a dedicated Web site, legacyofphotography.org.

“In the 21st century, photography has undergone two historic transitions,” says James Reilly, director of the Image Permanence Institute. “The old question of ‘Is photography art?’ has been decisively answered by a vigorous art market, expanding galleries in major art museums and intense interest in every aspect of photographic masterpieces. At the same time, photography as a chemical technology using light-sensitive silver emulsions has given way to digital imaging, changing the materials, the working methods, and the aesthetics of photography in profound and lasting ways.”

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Kelly Downs

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