Rare Book School

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I-35. The Identification of Photographic Print Processes

James M. Reilly, assisted by Ryan Boatright

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 instructors 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: c19, c20 black and white, c20 color, and c21 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 Digital Sample Book.

Course Resources

Course History


Jim Reilly teaches this course for the first time; he is assisted by Ryan Boatright.