Hiring a Conservator

Hiring a Conservator

I love digital imaging. The technology certainly makes it easy to share pictures and improve the quality of damaged photos. As a former photographic curator, though, I can't ignore original pictures. If you have a family photo that's faded, rusted or broken, you can use photo-editing software to create a...

I love digital imaging. The technology certainly makes it easy to share pictures and improve the quality of damaged photos. As a former photographic curator, though, I can’t ignore original pictures.

If you have a family photo that’s faded, rusted or broken, you can use photo-editing software to create a digital image that looks like new. But unless you hire a professional conservator, the original photo will continue to deteriorate. (If your pictures have water damage, call a conservator immediately!) Conservators can stabilize your precious pictures and ultimately save your collection. Here’s what you need to know before hiring one.

Conservators aren’t all the same.
Just as you wouldn’t hire a plumber to fix a lighting problem, you wouldn’t hire a furniture-conservation specialist to work on your photographs. There are different types of conservators, and most have specialties. Professional photographic conservators are highly trained experts in handling pictures.

Get a referral.
The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) is a professional organization for conservators that offers a free referral system. Members must adhere to the AIC’s code of ethics and standards of practice. If you want to hire a conservator, the AIC can send you a list of members in your area.

Ask questions.
The AIC recommends asking these questions before hiring a conservator:

  • What is his/her training for photographic conservation?
  • Does he/she have a list of references?

  • How long has he/she been involved in photographic conservation?

  • Is conservation his/her primary business?

  • Does he/she have experience working with the type of image you have?

  • What is his/her availability?

Know what to expect.
Although conservators’ businesses will vary, there are a few standard practices you should expect:

  • The conservator will examine the item before advising a treatment.

  • You will receive a written preliminary report that contains a description of the treatment, results and estimated costs.

  • Some conservators charge separately for examinations. Clarify whether the examination costs are deductible or separate from the future contract.

  • The conservator should be able to explain risks, insurance, payment schedule and shipping.

  • If the work is more involved than originally projected, you will be notified.

  • When the work is finished, you should receive a copy of the final treatment report.

Hiring a conservator is an investment you probably won’t make for every picture in your collection. But if you have an extra-special picture that needs a little extra care, why not investigate the costs and benefits of working with a conservator? You’ll be preserving a piece of your past.

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