I-35. The Identification of Photographic Print Processes

Ryan Boatright James M. Reilly

This course will offer instruction in the identification and dating of all the major photographic print processes, from the salted paper print to modern color photographs made from digital files. It will use original examples from the instructor’s collection, as well as those of RBS and the UVA library; students are encouraged to bring objects of their own for examination and discussion. The processes to be considered will fall into four broad categories: 19th-century, 20th-century black and white, 20th-century color, and 21st-century digital. The course will discuss methods to distinguish photomechanical prints from actual photographs and how deterioration affects the appearance of photographs. The course will use a structured approach to print identification in which a variety of specific characteristics such as image structure, color, visibility of paper fibers, texture, sheen, differential gloss and image deterioration are considered in logical order.

Along with process identification, the course will touch on the evolution of photograph technology and will consider the major processes in chronological order. Dating and questions about whether a photograph is “vintage” are also part of developing connoisseurship expertise with photographs. The course will discuss available forensic approaches to supplement visual examination in order to establish the age of a print. Students will learn how to use a low power loupe magnifier and a stereo microscope to examine photographic prints. Classroom examples will be supplemented by lectures on process history and use of the website Graphics Atlas.

Course History

James Reilly and Ryan Boatright co-teach this course.

Course Resources

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  • Ryan Boatright
  • James M. Reilly

Ryan Boatright

Ryan Boatright is formerly Staff Scientist at the Image Permanence Institute of the Rochester Institute of Technology. He has taught and lectured widely on the subject of photographs and digital prints, and in 2011, he co-founded the printing and conservation studio Atelier Boba in Paris. Ryan also pursues his own artistic endeavors, using a variety of photographic processes to examine various aspects of the medium itself.

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