Photographs and Preservation. How to save photographic artworks for the future?

Within the Science4Arts program, NWO, the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research has awarded funding to the research project “Photographs & Preservation. How to save photographic artworks for the future?” The research is dedicated to understand and develop conservation strategies for contemporary photographic artworks. The works examined will mainly be post-1960s photographic works of art to which different materials such as paint, adhesive, paper, metal are deliberately applied by the artists onto the surface. The selected works of art will be studied from three different disciplines: art history, organic chemistry, and conservation and museum practices. 

The project started on the 1st of June 2012 and will run until June 2016, with an extension to 2017 for the concluding conference. The research results will be presented and discussed at an international conference at the end of the four years project. Specialists of different fields, such as John Havermans, conservation scientist at TNO, Sanneke Stigter, lecturer and program leader of the masters program in Contemporary Art Conservation at the University of Amsterdam, Hripsimé Visser, photography curator at the Stedelijk Museum, Clara von Waldthausen, photo conservator and Bill Wei conservation scientist at the Cultural Heritage Agency (RCE), will be closely involved in the project, together with Leo Jenneskens, Professor at the Debye Institute of Utrecht University.

In addition to the support from NWO, the project will receive structural contributions from: the Cultural Heritage Agency (RCE), Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven and Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, all in The Netherlands.

Detail of Russian Diplomacy by Ger van Elk
Detail of Russian Diplomacy by Ger van Elk, 1974, SMA. Chromogenic colour print with acrylic paint


Subproject 1: PhD researcher Caroline von Courten under the supervision of Prof. Kitty Zijlmans and Dr. Helen Westgeest, Leiden University of Leiden.

Subproject 2: PhD researcher Bas Reijers under the supervision of Prof. Leo Jenneskens, Utrecht University.

Subproject 3: conducted at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam by Monica Marchesi under the supervision of Kitty Zijlmans, Universiteit Leiden and Sandra Weerdenburg, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

Subproject 1 will research what the used materials can tell about the photographic works of art from an art historical point of view. Materials have specific esthetical characteristics but they are also carriers of historical, cultural and artistic meaning. This subproject will focus on the consequences of the material changes and how these influence the interpretation and perception of the case studies and photographic works in general.

Subproject 2 will shed new light on the photo-works by analyzing the used materials, the [possibly undesirable] interactions between the materials and the environment. Furthermore it will be examined whether the standards for long term storage and the exhibition policy commonly used for photographic materials can also be applied to mixed media photographic works.

Subproject 3 will create an intake- and decision making model specific for mixed media photographic works of art that cover all aspects required for the documentation and preservation of photographic works of art such as registration and identification of materials, presentation, artists’ intent, storage, exhibition and conservation policy. In this context the characteristics specific to the photographic medium such as replicas, later editions and copyright aspects will also be examined.

Researchers: Caroline von Courten, Monica Marchesi, Bas Reijers

Project leiders: Kitty Zijlmans and Sandra Weerdenburg

Affiliation(s): Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, University of Leiden, University of Utrecht

Associated partners: Kröller Müller Museum, Van Abbe Museum

Estimated date of completion: June 2017


Monica Marchesi, coordinator,