I want to get you up to date with what I have been up to so far, so I hope this will be the first of a number of posts where I write about what I have been up to so far.
My project involves understanding how colour photographs interact with their environment, particularly when stored in an archive (since my work is a collaboration with the National Archives). However, for this to be possible it was important for me to first understand exactly what the environment (both macro- and micro-) is like in the location where they are actually stored, that is, in the National Archives. Thus, the first study I wanted to undertake was exactly this: understanding the micro- and macro-environments present for the photographs in archival storage at the National Archives.
How do you go about doing that?
There are various methods of measuring the concentration of components in an environment, from passive methods to active methods, continuous methods to single measurements. Most of the equipment on the market has been developed in response to health and safety requirements of limiting the concentration of the said chemical in an environment. This means that they are generally geared towards measuring the concentration levels that would cause need for health and safety issues to be investigated. However, heritage materials are not necessarily damaged solely by chemicals which are of a health and safety issue. Also, the concentrations which are of importance for understanding what the long-term effects on heritage materials (in this case colour photographs) are would often be lower than health and safety standards. This sometimes causes problems in that the equipment available would not be sensitive to the low concentrations you want to measure.
Luckily, the department has purchased over the past months a set of active monitors which measure concentrations of specific pollutants in a continuous manner. This allowed me to use this equipment to obtain readings over a week, thus allowing me the possibility to not only see instantanoues levels, but also to observe and daily cycles that may be occurring.
Besides these active monitors, passive monitors, i.e. monitors which collect data over a period of time, giving the total concentration of a chemical absorbed during the period of monitoring, were also used. This is also useful since it allows you to observe the dose that the material is getting over the period of monitoring.
Of course, temperature and relative humidity are important variables to note in an environment. Luckily, the National Archives have their own monitoring system set up to continuously monitor these two conditions, so I could also get more long-term data for these, as they have been monitored for a number of months.
I am currently in the process of analysing the data I have already collected, while still obtaining more data using other monitors for other compounds. By the end of the monitoring period I should have a clearer picture of what variables with respect to environment conditions I should be considering for my experimental phase. Will keep you posted!
In the meantime, you can read more about a project on monitoring of pollutants in the museum environment at the Getty here.