ADVERTISEMENT

Nano-Scientists Attempt to Save Disintegrating Artworks

As priceless images from the earliest days of photography were dissolving in front of museumgoers' eyes, an unlikely team set out to save them
THIS IS A PREVIEW.
or subscribe to access the full article.

More on this Topic

In the theaterlike darkness of the international Center of Photography in New York City, black-and-white ghosts of New England's mid-19th-century Boston Brahmins stared out from behind the glass-and-rosewood frames. These were the works of Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes, the Rembrandts of daguerreotypy—the first practical form of photography. A demure bride in white silk crepe fingered her ribbons; the stern and haughty statesman Daniel Webster glared from behind his brow. When the “Young America” exhibit opened in 2005, its 150-year-old images captured American icons at a time when the nation was transitioning from adolescence into a world power. “Each picture glows on the wall like a stone in a mood ring,” the New York Times raved in its review.

Yet after a month on exhibit, the silver plate–bound images began to degrade. White spots overtook half the portrait of a woman in a curtain-length skirt. Iridescent halos formed on abolitionist Henry Ingersoll Bowditch. Other images blistered. By the end of the two-and-a-half-month show, 25 daguerreotypes had been damaged, five of them critically.

THIS IS A PREVIEW.
or subscribe to access the full article.
Buy Digital Issue $5.99
Digital Issue + Subscription $39.99 Subscribe
Rights & Permissions
Share this Article:

Comments

You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.

EVERY ISSUE
EVERY YEAR
1845-PRESENT

Get All-Access Digital + Print >

X

Email this Article

X