“It is as if one had believed that the important thing was the act of ‘saving’ a collection by acquiring it; that, once this was accomplished, one could ignore it. In short, after having made a noble gesture, one found the collection turely a nuisance.” Jean del Gagniers, La Conservation du Patrimoine Muselogique du Quebec.
Hopefully by now, you’re getting the idea that collection management can be considerably easier if you know, ahead of time, what is expected of you as a responsible steward.
One of the best things you can do to help insure the longevity of your collection is to photograph it periodically at a regular interval and make note of changes as time goes by. In other words, you begin to build a history for each object in your collection. In years past family doctors ministering to patients from birth were able to have a history of the patients’ norms so that when something did occur the doc knew what was the norm or center of the scale for that person. The same goes for each object in your collection.
The oft-made mistake new and, interestingly, even well-seasoned collectors make is to take a photograph either too far away, out of focus or with some other handicap making evaluation completely impossible.
So, the first thing to do is practice with your camera. Taking shots close up is not the same as wide angle. And, lighting is easy if you can take the item outside or to an area in your home that’s filled with daylight. If you have, say, a large antique hutch you’ll find lighting a challange.
I’m often asked what kind of camera I recommend. Well, I’ll tell you that I use Minolta cameras and lenses exclusively both in my work and for liesure photography. My brother, owner of Laurence Photography and Graphics in Memphis, uses Minolta cameras and lenses too. He’s been in the business for over 20 years, shot with just about every camera there is, and is a Kodak Promise of Excellence studio. Minolta has an exceptionally well-equipped technical lab on each coast. So, if your camera gets out of whack you can get it taken care of quickly and economically. Too, they have extremely knowledgeable and helpful technical assistants who will do everything they can to make sure you get the most out of their products. This isn’t to say that other photographic equipment won’t do a fine job. Shop around. It’s a good idea to have your camera professionally cleaned and calibrated once every couple of years. Call the service center and ask when they experience the slowest time; that’s the ideal time to submit your camera. If you wait until the holiday season you’re setting yourself up for a wait.
As for film I’d suggest you shoot any fine slide film. Yes, slides cost more but you can put a slide in a projector and really examine the picture. Here I’ll suggest you try Kodak’s Lumier 100 or Lumier-X 100. The X version delivers slightly warmer tones. Keep in mind that any color medium looses it’s chroma and density over time. In other words it fades. Also, if you alternate film types, say between Kodak and Fugi, you’re sure to notice a difference in color rendition.
If you want to get good accurate pictures try Kodak T-MAX 100 ASA black & white film. You’ll get fine detail and the prints won’t loose their color over time.
Here again, some experimentation is in order.
Another absolute must for the collection manager that you are is a thermohygrometer. Big word, little instrument. Well, they can be big and expensive but your level of sophistication will determine the right size for your collection. There are, as you might already imagine, many makes and models but all of them do basically the same thing; report environmental temperature and relative humidity. Some are recording thermohygrometers that record data on a writable drum. If you’re in charge of the King Tut artifacts I strongly suggest this type of instrument. Check that. I strongly suggest several of them. Can that too. I strongly suggest you leave the decision up to the battery of environmental conservators who’ve undoubtedly wondered about your new-found interest in thermohygrometers.
OK, so what are we saying here? You should monitor the environment of your collection. But a word of wisdom here; keep in mind where in your environment your objects are located. For instance, if your collection consists of framed objects and you have arranged them in several rows on a wall it’ll take no genie to tell you the ones highest on the wall will be warmer and dryer than the ones that are set lowest. And, wise manager that you are keeps records of this, monitors the range and if it is significantly different, say by more than 10 percent you periodically re-arrange the display. When you’ve mixed interior decorating matters into the collection management, the blue picture is next to the blue chair, the matter can get complicated. Try to keep things simple.