Sofie LH

The Media Conservator

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Interview with Ben Fino-Radin, Digital Conservator at the MoMA

In terms of retaining digital art’s useable past, then, the implications here are grave: with works falling ever more quickly into obsolescence, entire threads of art historical precedence can effectively vanish, inaccessible to succeeding generations and absent from future discussions. 

In response to these challenges, there has emerged in recent years a small but tight-knit community of practitioners dedicated to establishing open, long-term access to technology-based works of art and design. Fusing traditional conservation practices with inventive technical strategies, the members of this nascent field find themselves tasked with lending some sense of permanence to an environment in constant flux, developing policies and procedures geared at restoring items once lost to technological obsolescence - and ensuring that the same fate doesn’t befall works being produced today. 

Among the more prominent voices within this burgeoning conversation has been NYC-based conservator Ben Fido-Radin. A self-described “media archeologist, archivist, and conservator of born-digital works,” Fino-Radin has spent the past few years splitting his time between developing a digital cataloging system for MoMA and, prior to joining that institution full-time this past September, maintaining Rhizome’s ArtBase archive of digital artwork. His practice encompasses a variety of activities, ranging from the painstaking documentation of contemporary artworks to salvaging content which lay dormant in outmoded materials – a skill which, at the time of this writing, had most recently led to his involvement in the New Museum’s ”XFR STN,” a media-archiving project/exhibition offering artists the chance to digitize and display items otherwise confined to archaic formats. 

(Source: conservethis)

Filed under digital preservation

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What is Preservation Programs doing with a Burned Record, a Customized Camera, and a WEBER Grill? 

               The burned record bays at Archives Drive facility in St. Louis are home to the ‘B-files’.   These are OMPF records that were recovered from the devastating 1973 fire, when the entire 6th floor of the Page Avenue facility burned destroying some 18 million individual serviceman’s records.  Approximately 6.5 million records were recovered.  Given the variety of conditions present on these documents, a number of preservation actions (e.g., mold remediation, repair, flattening or other stabilization) are required before releasing these records for reference. Unfortunately many, like this example, are too damaged to yield information and will deteriorate rapidly in the case of further handling.


For several years Preservation Programs in St. Louis has tested IR photographic methods to ‘see through’ charred and mold-stained paper and recover information with the idea that digitized versions will best accomplish access for this subset of highly damaged records.  Our testing led to the development of a customized camera system, by Digital Transitions, a photographic technology vendor that specializes in cultural heritage imaging. The examples above are successive shots directly from the camera prototype, with no manipulation (except cropping and redaction).  An internal filter wheel (at very bottom of illustration 4) can be rotated to select bandwidth sensitivity between visible light and two infrared ranges. In addition, the lens turret has been modified to include focus stops (illustrated in orange) to allow operators to rapidly and accurately adapt focus between taking successive shots of visible and IR.

While testing the prototype camera, Digital Transitions created simulated burned records by wrapping a dictionary in aluminum foil and grilling it in a barbeque grill. It turns out that creating char without completely consuming paper is not as easy as it might seem.  

Significant challenges and work remain in the areas of:  a) identifying the best candidates for digitization, b) developing special document handling methods during photography for those fused, blocked, moldy, highly burned, brittle or otherwise heavily damaged documents, and c) integrating these images of damaged records into the archival and reference workflows.

(via themindofaconservator)

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Filmed over 18 months, the story behind the restoration of Mark Rothko’s ‘Black on Maroon’.

Mark Rothko’s ‘Black on Maroon’ 1958 goes back on public view at Tate Modern on 13 May 2014, following 18 months of intensive work by the Conservation team and colleagues across Tate.

The painting, one of the iconic Seagram murals which Rothko donated to Tate in 1970, was vandalised with graffiti ink in October 2012. It has since been the subject of detailed research and restoration by the core treatment team of Rachel Barker, Bronwyn Ormsby and Patricia Smithen.

Over nine months the team researched methods for removing the ink from the delicate paint layers, using special test canvases to assess the appropriate solvents and cleaning methods. Rachel then spent a further nine months working on Black on Maroon itself, removing the majority of the surface ink before restoring the painting’s surface.

Really well made video, you really get to understand the process and see  all the awesome equipment and of course conservators oozing with professionalism. 

Filed under mark rothko art restoration tate

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Cleaning Up…Clean Up…Everybody Do Your Share…

If you have mold that must be surface cleaned, you need a HEPA vacuum to help safely remove the unhealthy mold and dirt from the surface and prevent air-born particles. What is a HEPA vacuum exactly? A vacuum with a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter captures 99.97% of particles down to 0.3 microns diameter. In St. Louis NARA has a lot of documents contaminated with mold after the 1973 fire. HEPA is a necessity in our work, but suction level is also extremely important when working with fragile paper. In addition to variable speed Nilfisk vacuums, we also have Shuco vacuums in our Decontamination Lab. Designed by the medical industry, the Shuco has a lower suction and smaller hose than many HEPA vacuums are equipped. But even with the power assist of HEPA, work is most safely performed inside fumehoods when possible.

That Shuco vacuum looks awesome!

(via conservethis)

Filed under archive preservation mold removal

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Here we have a lovely pocket edition of The Compleat Angler printed in 1825 in London by William Pickering.  Both an author and biographer, Izaak Walton’s (1593-1683) first edition of of The Compleat Angler was printed in 1653.  He produced a second edition almost immediately after in 1655.  In this second edition we see the format that subsequent editions have kept.  Walton wrote the book as a dialogue between travelers who practiced different forms of recreation: Piscator (fisherman), Venator (hunter), and Auceps (falconer).  Piscator teaches his companions the art of fishing and how its practice leads to a more meaningful life.  Walton continued to revise and reissue his work throughout his lifetime.  His friend Charles Cotton (1630-1687) worked on the piece as well, producing part two and finishing the text we are familiar with today.  

To get a sense of how small this book is I’ve included a few dry flies: a wooly bugger (fuzzy green one), a purple haze, and a CDC(cul de canard) Elk Hair caddis (small tan and orange one).


799.12 W239 c1825

A beautiful old edition of The Compleat Angler, from the University of Iowa Special Collections.

Filed under Books

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Digitizing glasplate photographs

I recently started a side project of cleaning and digitizing at DTU ( Technical University of Denmark) in the department of Technological History. They have a nice collection of glass lanterns and glass plate negatives depicting building of bridges from 1910 and upward. The images have been used for teaching students about different types of bridges and some of the photographs were taken by the university professors themselves. Some of them are quite beautiful and I’m sure I will be posting some more at a later stage. 

Filed under photography digitization archive bridges DTU