Thursday 21 March 2019

In the first part of this blog, we told you about a major exhibition featuring loans from the Library’s photographic collections that opened earlier this month in Tokyo, Japan.

It is standard practice for items requested for loan to have their condition thoroughly inspected before they can be approved for exhibition. As soon as the request came in, our conservator Erica Kotze quickly got to work on drafting individual condition reports for all 37 items. The condition reports also serve to record all interventions and changes made to each item to prepare it for exhibition. The reports become the official record of the loan items’ condition prior to display, against which the condition can be checked after exhibition to ensure that no damage has occurred from transport or display.

Album 24 during assessment

Everything was surface cleaned to remove accumulated dirt and debris. The bound volumes (two photographic albums, along with Henry Fox Talbot’s 1845 Sun Pictures in Scotland), required consolidation of their covering materials as well as repairs to the paper in places.

Rachel and Erica cutting mounts at the DCA

Of the loose photographs to be loaned, 22 are backed onto heavier paper and had previously been bound into two separate albums. Thick strips of paper, or guards, added to the backings at some point (but not part of the previous binding) were removed to prevent the backing from being embossed by the thick guards when tightly sandwiched in mounts and frames for display.

Additionally, nearly all the loose prints had some undulations in either the paper or their backings. To reduce the distortion the photographs all received a gentle humidification followed by pressing under weights over the Christmas break. The flattening made the framing and mounting easier, and also makes the photographs more aesthetically pleasing once on display in Tokyo.

Pressing the humidified photographs between blotting paper

All the loose photographs were mounted on museum board which uses a neutral starch paste laminate between the plies of board. The glazing was museum acrylic which blocks all UV, reduces glare and is resistant to scratches. To give the framing some rigidity, they were each backed with an aluminium board.

Verso of the sealed ‘package’ with the frame being assembled around it
One of the mounted and framed photographs waiting to be wrapped

Once these layers were brought together, the entire package needed to be sealed with a protective aluminium sheeting that prevents any pollutants or humidity coming into contact with the photographs. This sealant was heat-welded to the acrylic glazing, then trimmed back so it could not be seen once framed. Each sealed ‘package’ was framed in an aluminium frame moulding before being wrapped for transit.


Left: wrapped frames slotted into the custom padded crate. Right: art handlers sealing the filled crates

The art handlers commissioned to deliver the loans from St Andrews to Tokyo custom-built five padded cases in which the material was to be transported. The framed photographs, glass and volumes were carefully packed up in St Andrews and the loan was then driven to London’s Heathrow Airport, where we met up with couriers from other institutions who were travelling over for the same exhibition. We oversaw our collections being prepared for loading in the cargo hold of the plane which involved customs checks and x-raying of the crates which were finally palleted and wrapped to be watertight for the journey.

Left: x-raying the crates. Right: wrapped and ready to go

cat logo_2Upon arrival in Tokyo we were met by the Japanese couriers (who have possibly the cutest of all logos for a courier company!) who loaded their trucks with all the crates of material. They brought us to the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum where our collections sat for two days to acclimatise slowly to the new environmental conditions.

Once we were ready to open the crates, a customs official needed to be present to ensure we were bringing in exactly what we declared on our forms; additionally, the museum wished to check we sent what they requested, and of course we also had to check the condition hadn’t changed and framed items hadn’t come loose. Happily, all items were as declared, ordered and expected.

condition and customs checks_1
Customs and condition checks after arrival

I have installed several exhibitions, of various sizes, over the years and this was by far the largest I have ever been a part of, and it was certainly the easiest. The team in Tokyo were fully prepared for a quick and seamless installation, equipped with multiple laser levels, pillows for framed items to rest on, cover sheets for photographs and hi-tech computers linked to their lighting.

The exhibition opened on 5 March to a full house of keen museum-goers and photography enthusiasts.

opening 1_1

This was the first exhibition showing off some of the greatest photographic items from across the UK, as well as some wonderful gems from TOP Museum’s own archive. It was a real treat to see the University of St Andrews collections in such fine company. I am sure it will be enjoyed by many Japanese and international visitors over the next six weeks.

Rachel Nordstrom
Photographic Collection Manager

Erica Kotze ACR
Preventive Conservator

If you have enjoyed learning about the intricacies of transporting our collections halfway across the world, this topical article from The Guardian, titled ‘How to move a masterpiece: the secret business of shipping priceless artworks‘, makes a great read.

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  • Anne
    Thursday 21 March 2019, 6.47pm

    What a fascinating account! I had no idea of the background work involved.


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