A Map to Photographic Process

When first scrolling Graphic Atlas’s list of pre-photographic, photomechanical, photographic and digital lists of photographic processes, even the lay photographer might think that they have stumbled upon an exotic and previously unseen science-fiction world out of “Star Wars.” However, “Dye Imbibition,” “Bromoil Transfer” or “Wet Plate Collodion” are not science-fiction characters; they are a wholly different level of geek: and inhabit the realm of the photography nerd.

Graphics Atlas describes itself as a “Sophisticated resource that presents a unique, object-based approach for the identification and characterization of prints and photographs.” If you take the website “Guided Tour” chronologically (although you can dip in and out in any order), you can start from an example of an Aquatint Hand-Colored Intaglio (a lovely view of a French village looking towards Waterloo) by R.Boywer, printed in a warm brown ink in 1816; and finish, in 2008, with a Dye Diffusion Thermal Transfer (Dye Sublimation) snapshot. Unlike the unique former print, the latter is representative of a common replicated process commonly used in photo kiosks found in drug stores and photo labs. For the geek amongst geeks, you can dig even further; and also discover that the print was made on a “Portable Canon Selphy dye sublimation printer. It does not require chemicals, and so the machines can be small and are more efficient than the larger chromogenic color printing machines.”

Somewhere in between, you can take a walk through a kaleidoscope of photographic process history, from Kodacolor to Woodbury type positives projected by magic lantern; via issues of image stability, size in gelatin dry plate negatives, and photogravure staining. In addition, you can take even more microscopic (loterally) guided tour of an individual print via categories such as: glass support, image tone, pigment particles, magnification and layer structure.

As a resource, Graphic Atlas focuses on research and expertise on the nature of not just photographic but also other forms of print media. Archival and conservation issues are of primary importance, as is, refreshingly, the promotion of sustainable practices in environmental management and preservation.

Graphic Atlas is the creation of the Image Permanence Institute (IPI); a nonprofit, university-based laboratory devoted to preservation research. It is the world’s largest independent laboratory with this specific scope; a recognized world leader in the development and deployment of sustainable practices for the preservation of images and cultural property. IPI has created a program of research, education, products, and services that meet the needs of individuals, companies, and institutions.

It’s no surprise that libraries, archives and museums worldwide look to IPI for reliable information, consulting information, practical tools, and preservation technology; it provides information, consulting services, practical tools and preservation technology. It has long-standing partnerships with the Library of Congress, the National Archives & Records Administration, the New York Public Library, the National Museum of Denmark and many other institutions.

The IPI was founded in 1985 through the combined efforts and sponsorship of the Rochester Institute of Technology and the Society for Imaging Science and Technology. Funding for IPI’s preservation research and outreach efforts has come primarily from the national Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The IPI has won numerous awards, including: Technical Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (1997), and the Fuji Gold Medal from the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (1998). As historical as the organization is, it always looks towards the future, and the creation of innovative new technological processes.

To take a tour, and enter into the amazing world of photographic processes, visit:


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