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 

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 (subproject 1) , Monica Marchesi (subproject 3), Bas Reijers (subproject 2).
Project leaders: Sandra Weerdenburg and Kitty Zijlmans.
Supervisors research: Prof. Kitty Zijlmans and Dr Helen Westgeest (subproject 1); Prof. Leo Jenneskens (subproject 2); Prof. Kitty Zijlmans, Prof. Pip Laurenson, Dr Helen Westgeest, and Sandra Weerdenburg (subproject 3). Affiliation(s): Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, University of Leiden, University of Utrecht.
Associated partners: Kröller Müller Museum, Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, and Van Abbemuseum.

Results third subproject: 

Research Forever Young. The Reproduction of Photographic Artworks as a Conservation Strategy by Monica Marchesi

Author: Monica Marchesi

Photographs, because of their chemical make-up, are inherently unstable. The process of degradation is relatively fast and cannot be turned around. This puts both artists and conservators in a difficult position. The idea of reproducing old photographs in order to be able to present them ‘the way they were meant when first created’ is attractive to many contemporary artists as well to museums. However, the concept of the reproduction of photographic artworks as a fountain of eternal youth that protracts a flawless condition is not without problems. Eternal youth comes at a price. That price varies with each individual work of art. Forever Young examines the reproduction of four photographic artworks as a conservation strategy from the vantage point of a conservator working in a museum of contemporary art. This book explores a vast issue in modern and contemporary art. It is a first attempt in its field, and will undoubtedly be the start for future research and scholarly discussion


Monica Marchesi received in 1992 a diploma in paper conservation at the Istituto per l’Arte e il Restauro of Florence. In 2000 she was awarded a MA degree in Art History at the University of Florence. Since 2006, she works as a paper conservator at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. In 2011 she initiated the research project 'Preservation & Photographs. How to Save Photographic Works of Art for the Future?' together with the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and Leiden University, funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research. In 2017 she was awarded a doctoral degree at the University Leiden after the completion of the dissertation Forever Young. The Reproduction of Photographic Artworks as a Conservation Strategy. Her research interests lie in conservation history and theory, museum practice, preservation and conservation of paper and photographic artworks. 

Download Forever Young (PDF)


Monica Marchesi, coordinator,