The Faith & Vision of Virginia Dwan

Recently, we had the privilege of working with the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC for the realization of “Los Angeles to New York: Dwan Gallery, 1959-1971”. This important exhibit highlights the vision of maverick art patron, collector and gallery owner Virginia Dwan and is currently on view at LACMA until September 10, 2017.


Carl Andre, Log Piece (detail), 1968, with an image of Virginia Dwan in one of her galleries.

Virginia Dwan was a force in the international art scene at the middle of the last century.  Not even the Richter scale can properly measure the impact Dwan made in supporting self-defined “Land Artists” like Carl Andre, Walter De Maria, Michael Heizer, Robert Morris, and Robert Smithson.


Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field, on left, which Dwan sponsored in 1974.

Land Art, also known as Earth Art, was a radical new medium which Dwan —a true visionary— backed.   The works, often monumental in size, commented on social issues while expanding or rejecting the normal setting of the gallery for the viewing of art. With the earth, sky, and sea as their canvas, the land artists made works no wall could hold.


Dwan also sponsored Michael Heizer’s cutting-edge work, Double Negative, 1969.

Our task was to create murals measuring up to an incredible 32’ in length from an original 35mm color negative and panoramic transparency on 120 film.  The nature of the work put an extreme demand on both image quality and level of detail  —calling for specialized equipment and state-of-the art digital imaging techniques to create file sizes exceeding 1GB for continuously printed murals.


Michael Heizer’s Double Negative, 1969, as viewed in the National Gallery in 2017.

Normally, images of this size would require the observer to stand a certain number of feet away in order to view the image properly.  We wanted to give the observer the ability to walk into the works and experience their awe-inspiring immensity without having the overall effect destroyed by perceiving the pixels often found in murals of this size today.  Our goal to provide the analog quality of film grain, albeit via a digital image, also serves as a reminder of Dwan’s fundamental belief in the Land Artists.  In large part, it was her faith in their vision that allows us to enjoy these groundbreaking works without question today.

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Preserving a Heritage of Courage

China Clipper_Post Stamp

The Inauguration of Trans-Pacific Air Mail Service album unbound for digital archiving and preservation.

“There can be no higher hope than that this heritage of courage, daring, initiative and enterprise will be conserved and intensified.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

These words, in a letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, were broadcast around the world on November 22, 1935 at the inauguration of Trans-Pacific air mail service from the United States to the Philippines.  The historic flight via Pan-American’s China Clipper was a milestone in aviation with lasting significance to the world.  As the first commercial flight route to link east to west, it blazed the trail for the development of Pacific routes for passenger flights —making the world a much smaller place.  Spanning 8,210 miles of the immense Pacific, it commanded months of survey flights, island development, the negotiation of landing rights, and the building of a new and large long-range aircraft capable of making the journey —Glen L. Martin Company’s M-130.

China Clipper_Loading Mail

A picture of progress. The final bag of mail being loaded from a horse-drawn coach onto the state-of-the-art Martin M-130 China Clipper.

We were so pleased to be a part of conserving this “heritage of courage” through the digital archiving and preservation of the album “Inauguration of Trans-Pacific Air Mail Service” and thought you might enjoy a peek at its contents with permission from our client.  The scrapbook album containing a full transcript of the ceremony, autographs of the heroic crew members, photographs, the exciting flight itinerary and more, had to first be unbound before each page and its cover could be digitized in accordance with FADGI Guidelines.


China Clipper_Crew

An autographed page of the album with photos of the heroic crew of the China Clipper.

The China Clipper was made up of a crackerjack crew of seven.  Captain Edwin Musick commanded the flight for Pan-Am along with veteran pilot and First Officer R.O.D. Sullivan.  Captain Musick, who served as Pan Am’s chief pilot, flew all proposed routes as well as test piloted new aircraft for the company —including the Martin M-130.   Navigation Officer for the China Clipper was Fred Noonan.  Though perhaps best remembered as the navigator who disappeared with Amelia Earhart on the last leg of her second around-the-world flight attempt, Noonan was an experienced maritime navigator and considered the leading aerial navigator of the day.

China Clipper_Log Record

The log of the China Clipper with photos of takeoff, landings and crew.  The log details each leg of the journey, which took less than a third of the time it took to reach the east by fast ship, as well as the mail transported.

The captures were done using a Hasselblad H4D digital camera back with macro lens. This was completed in RGB mode to produce a true record of the condition and color of the original objects.

We then delivered to our client a set of unaltered Master RGB TIFF 16-bit and Production TIFF RGB 8-bit image files at full resolution allowing unrestricted repurposing of the image files for any future use along with a PDF file assembled from the image files representing the album in its entirety.   In this case, we handled the preservation side of the project, partnering with The Better Image studio, who then received the album for further conservation treatment and rebinding.

China Clipper Poem

The China Clipper sails above the Pacific Ocean along with a moving poem of tribute to the vessel and hopes for its joining West and East in peace and friendship.

Just as the China Clipper spanned over 8,000 miles of ocean, digital archiving and preservation is a way to bridge the time and distance of history.  In addition to the services provided in preserving this important piece of aviation history, Chicago Albumen Works is also able to create full-size facsimiles of these types of albums. Further, we are able to select and crop individual photographs and produce surrogates at the original size or enlargements —all on archival media.  Please contact us for details on how we can help you preserve a piece of your important heritage.

Posted in Archival Digitization, Book binding, Digital Imaging, Digital Printing, FADGI, Fine Art Reproduction, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Remember the Maine

Every image we work with is compelling in its own way but recently we received a box of 30 nitrate negatives for preservation that had appreciable historical significance. So badly curled, brittle, and stuck together were the almost 120-year-old negatives that our client had never before seen many of the images in his possession – which included those of US forces in Havana Harbor, Cuba and the doomed USS Maine.


Digital image of the destroyed USS Maine from original nitrate negative.

The USS Maine was a second-class battleship dispatched by President McKinley to Spanish-colonized Cuba in early 1898. The ship was sent by McKinley in an effort to calm the current situation of the country, long in revolt, as well as pacify Americans outraged by the treatment of Cubans at the hands of Spain. In its third week of being anchored in Havana Harbor, the USS Maine was sunk by an undetermined explosion —killing 266 members of its crew— and served as a catalyst for the Spanish-American War. The war, which lasted a mere four months, is considered the pivot point for the United States’ emergence as a world power at the turn of the century.


The badly curled negatives were carefully separated, flattened, and stabilized.


Despite the poor state in which the nitrate negatives came to us, relative to their age they were in surprisingly good condition. Nitrate film became available for purchase by the public just a decade earlier in 1889 and is known for its inherent instability along with health and safety issues when not stored or handled properly. For in-depth information please see our article Negative Deterioration: Digitization and Preservation of Cellulose Nitrate and Cellulose Acetate Negatives.


Broken negatives were stabilized before being repaired digitally.



Stabilized nitrate negatives collated and prepared for digitization.

Once we walked our client through shipping the materials to us all of the negatives needed to be separated, flattened, assessed, and stabilized. Each negative then underwent a high-resolution capture in accordance with FADGI guidelines, creating archival and production master image files, and all broken negatives were digitally pieced together to restore image integrity.  After digitization, the original nitrate negatives were then stabilized in archival enclosures. In this case, our client chose to keep the original negatives but many clients opt to have us dispose of them safely once the images have been captured and preserved. Another option in dealing with nitrate or any negatives is to output the image files back to a traditional silver halide film while also maintaining a digital file.


Digital image from original nitrate negative.



Digital image from original nitrate negative.

We are pleased to have played a part in preserving such compelling historical images which allow both us and future generations to consider the past.  If we can help you meet your preservation needs through our extensive experience in handling film collections in various states of deterioration please contact us.

Posted in Archival Digitization, Digital Imaging, Digital Restoration, FADGI, Negative Scanning, Nitrate Negative | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

CAW Digitization of Norman Rockwell Photos

The Chicago Albumen Works has worked with the Norman Rockwell Museum on a variety of digitization projects including the documentation of Rockwell’s magazine cover illustrations and his advertising work. Our most recent project with the museum was the digitization of over 20,000 photographs as part of the museum’s digital experiences project.  These digital images provide greater accessibility for researchers and the general public to behind-the-scene images of the artist’s working method and his private life.

Reference photo for Portrait of Robert F. Kennedy, c. 1968. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections. All rights reserved.

Reference photo for Portrait of Robert F. Kennedy, c. 1968. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections. All rights reserved.

The Norman Rockwell Museum is located in Stockbridge Massachusetts and is

… dedicated to education and art appreciation inspired by the legacy of Norman Rockwell. The museum preserves, studies and communicates with a worldwide audience the life, art and spirit of Norman Rockwell in the field of illustration.

Further information about museum hours and admission can be found here.

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Before and After: 35mm Acetate Film Stripping

As we have posted previously, we have had some success treating deteriorating 35mm negatives by stripping the gelatin image layer from its acetate base. These are scans of the stripping project and experiments that we have been carrying out over the last few weeks. These before and after pictures show the potential efficacy of stripping 35mm  film as a treatment for negative preservation and digital image capture. b-a_japan

The “before” scan shows both channelling and blister-like bubbles that marred the image on the film. One can also get a sense of the curling of the film strip from the highlights around the edge of the sprocket holes because the film was unable to be flattened completely in the scanner.ba_face_japan

While stripping can’t eliminate all the image flaws in deteriorated film it can go a long way to render the image workable as well as stabilizing the gelatin layer by removing it from the damaging effects of decaying acetate.

Single frame before and after example of a 35mm stripping treatment.

Single frame before and after example of a 35mm stripping treatment.

Once the gelatin layer is flattened and dry the gelatin is relatively resilient (though not suitable for traditional enlarging) but stable to further changes if kept in a proper storage environment.

The negative can at this point be digitized for archiving or for digital output as an LVT negative or pigment print.

Posted in 35mm Duplication, Acetate Deterioration, Acetate Film Conservation, Acetate Film Restoration, Archival Digitization, Digital Restoration, Negative Scanning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Digitizing a Lincoln Ambrotype

Before and after conservation treatment by The Better Image.  Image use courtesy of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

In a recent collaboration with The Better Image, CAW created an in-depth, hi-resolution digital record of the ambrotype, Portrait of Abraham Lincoln, May 7, 1858, by Abraham Byers for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Plate shown (from top to bottom) inside the original brass mat, without mat on black background, and viewed with transmitted light

Plate shown (from top to bottom) inside the original brass mat, without mat on black background, and viewed with transmitted light

The portrait, taken by eighteen-year-old Byers, was made in Beardstown, Illinois on the same day that Lincoln successfully defended Duff Armstrong for murder charges.  Byers recalled the encounter “He cast his eyes down on his old holland linen suit which had no semblance of starch in it, and said, ‘These clothes are dirty and unfit for a picture.’ But I insisted and he finally went with me.” (Source: Kunhardt III, Philip B., Peter W. Kunhardt, and Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr.. Lincoln, Life-Size. New York, 2009)

This unique quarter plate cased image was in need of cleaning and conservation assessment due to concerns over an area on President Lincoln’s chin where the collodion had fractured and separated from the glass.  The treatment of the plate would require removing it from it’s case, which offered the rare opportunity of viewing the plate without the brass mat and preserver.  To make the most of this opportunity, Peter Mustardo of the Better Image approached us to produce images of the plate and surrounding components both before and after treatment to provide the fullest possible digital documentation of both the image and it’s condition.

Upon disassembling the ambrotype, it was discovered that the orientation of the plate (collodion side down) was not the plate’s original orientation.  A slight impression from the oval mat on the surface of the collodion indicated that, while the correct orientation of the portrait was collodion side down, the plate had originally been cased with the collodion side up.  After treatment of the plate, glass, mat, and preserver, the plate was returned to the case in it’s original orientation.  In addition to being historically accurate, this also reduced the appearance of the discoloration and cracking in the chin area of the image.

The before and after treatment images of the plate, as well as the images of the components of the case, were produced using our Hasselblad H4D-200MS camera, allowing for files of up to 3,400 ppi for this size of image.  The plate was lit in a variety of ways to provide the most complete record possible of the condition and appearance of the plate.  The digitization of unique photographic objects can be used by institutions in a number of ways; they provide a detailed record of damage and deterioration of an image so that changes can be tracked over time, they can be used to reduce damage caused by handling and exposure of the object to harmful exhibition conditions through the use of a surrogate, and they can improve accessibility to the public through online publication.

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Digital Restoration of Painted Photographs

Before and after digital restoration of a deteriorating painted photograph. Image use courtesy of Kaufman family.

Before color film became widely available in the 1950’s, hand coloring photographs with various pigments was a popular way to artistically enhance or add realism to monochrome photographs.  In the case of portraits, over painting could almost completely obscure the underlying photographic image to give the impression of being a painting rather than a photograph.

Whether due to the instability of the base, the fragility of the pigments, or the poor adhesion between the two, heavily painted photographs on a white plastic base may deteriorate over time, causing the pigments and photographic emulsion to peel away from the support and dramatically degrade the image.

When the image is of a beloved family member, the loss can be felt greatly.  Restoring these unique objects digitally and producing high quality prints allows the image to not only be preserved, but also to be shared by more than one family member.

Before and after digital restoration. Image use courtesy of Lorimer Burns.

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Stripping & Recovering 35mm Acetate Roll Film

Over the past few weeks we have been working on an exploratory project that involves the stripping of the image pellicle from strips of deteriorating 35mm acetate roll film from the 1950s. Our previous experience with stripping microfilm led us to the conclusion that miniature film emulsions were too thin to be be stripped, so this recent series of tests is an exciting discovery.

The acetate base successfully removed from the gelatin image layer.

The acetate base successfully removed from the gelatin image layer.

Image pellicule after cleaning.

The image pellicle after cleaning.

These sixty year old negatives were badly curled and had bubbles forming between the gelatin and the base layers. However, through careful testing we have been able to successfully separate the gelatin image layer from the acetate base in order to recover the image layer.

This potentially opens up a new range of negative formats suitable for image recovery from vinegar syndrome and other acetate deterioration. The recovered pellicles are now stable and can be stored or prepared for high resolution digital capture in order to be printed digitally or have copy negatives made for continued service in the traditional darkroom.

While the our recent testing has been mainly on Fuji Neopan SS film, we are hopeful and excited to see how other types of older roll films from Kodak, Agfa, Ilford etc. will respond to our acetate stripping process.

Smoothing pellicule in preparation for digital image capture.

Smoothing the image pellicle in preparation for digital image capture.

We’ll update our progress as different films and formats are tried and tested.

Posted in Acetate Deterioration, Acetate Film Conservation, Acetate Film Restoration, Collection Services, Disaster Recovery, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Digitizing Glass Plates for New York City Municipal Archives



Manhattan Bridge. Courtesy of the New York Municipal Archives.

Over time the history of an institution is often captured through photographs of the people and events that helped shape it over the years. Digital technologies have made it easier to share these images and the stories they tell, but it then becomes necessary to digitize large collections of negatives in order to bring these histories to life.

Stone mason on Manhattan Bridge

Stone mason on Manhattan Bridge. Courtesy of the New York Municipal Archives.

In 2011 the New York Municipal Archives embarked on just such an extensive digitization project of glass plate negatives.  The Chicago Albumen Works is proud to have played a pivotal role in the capture of over 20,000 of glass plate negatives documenting the construction of a number of the city’s landmark bridges as well as other public works projects undertaken in New York City during the late 19th and early part of the 20th century.

Given the large number of plates in the the collection and the fragile nature of the glass negatives, we set up work stations on-site at the archive for several months each year over the course of the project. This allowed us to collaborate closely with the Municipal Archives’ staff assessing the condition of individual plates and re-assembling and capturing plates that had been broken or otherwise suffering from the effects of time. Using a combination of flatbed scanners and high resolution multi-shot cameras we created high resolution image files of the plates from which we made positive digital “contact” prints making the images readily accessible to the public when they are added to the archive’s digital repository and presented online.

Manhattan Bridge footing, Brooklyn Bridge in the distance.

Manhattan Bridge footing, Brooklyn Bridge in the distance. Courtesy of the New York Municipal Archives.

To see more photographs of New York City, the Archive has published a large collection of its holdings online at: New York Municipal Archives Gallery.

The Chicago Albumen Works works in both the private and public realms digitizing extensive holdings of negatives and plates for both improved access and for posterity. We have extensive experience working with negative materials from glass plates, sheet film and roll film from all eras.



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Digitization for Private Collections

A recent Barron’s blog post featured quotes from Chicago Albumen Works’ Director Doug Munson.

“Families that have approached us for digitization had private collections that have been passed down from the 19th and 20th century, and now there are three generations of people who are interested.” These families, Munson said, subsequently used digital images to create facsimile albums, scrapbooks and reproductions. “In addition, private collectors can enhance the value of their collections before a donation is made, to relieve the museums or historical societies of digitizing expenses,” he said.

In other words, increase awareness of your private collection, through making digital images available to the public, and the value of your collection should rise. Working exclusively with flat objects, particularly photographs, Housatonic, Mass.-based Albumen Works takes pride in working under the rules of museum-quality conservation. Munson said that the ubiquity of scanners has been an unfortunate fact for digitization. “It feels like you can push a button and that photo is magically on-screen,” Munson says. Furthermore, digitization a decade ago was inferior, mostly because industry standards hadn’t yet been developed.

Read the full article by Crystal Kim here:

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