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Museum of Art and Photography, Tata Trust working towards conserving India’s visual history, one frame at a time

The conservation centre will soon move into the Museum of Art and Photography.

, ET Bureau|
Sep 09, 2019, 11.04 AM IST
The centre will ensure proper storage and retrieval mechanisms, digitising collections and creating best-practice procedures.
BENGALURU: Three young conservator-restorers dressed in their lab whites intently pore over an old print of a woman leaning against a tree. An industrial-level microscope maximises a corner of the print over a thousand times on a computer to assess the level of damage. This lab, currently working out of a makeshift office, will move into a 2,000-sq ft space in the Museum of Art and Photography, (MAP) on Kasturba Road, is set to open to the public next year.

MAP has tied up with the Tata Trust for this conservation centre to preserve India’s visual heritage, with a focus on photography. This, while ensuring storage and retrieval mechanisms, digitising collections and creating best-practice procedures.

“The approach, techniques, skills and equipment required for conservation of photographs is quite different and it’s rare to find experts in the field in India. So MAP will be working with partners both within and outside the country to build these capacities,” museum director Kamini Sawhney said.

To get the ball rolling, the centre is hosting a 10-day workshop towards the end of this month on the conservation of paper-prints, drawings and maps, as part of the MAP-Tata Trusts Art Conservation Initiative.

The museum has noted collections of Brazilian social documentary photographer Sebastião Salgado, Waswo X Waswo and Jyoti Bhatt, among others.

Striking a chord with Bengalureans is a vast archive of photographs by the late TS Satyan, one of independent India’s earliest photojournalists. Most of Satyan’s photographs, negatives and writings were donated to the museum by his family.

The biggest problem with photographs is that correct storage practices are not followed, said Paromita Dasgupta, one of the conservator-restorers at the lab. The most common deterioration is loss of emulsion (the top layer of chemicals), besides loss of paper support, tear and surface eating by silver fish. The centre is equipped with state-of-the-art machines like flexible microscopes, ultrasonic piezo humidifiers, fume-filtering extractors and special storage cabinets for chemicals.

“A conservation lab is the spine of any museum,” said Deepika Sorabjee, head, Arts & Culture at Tata Trusts. This conservation centre is among five institutions across the county the trust funds. Sorabjee said there’s a dearth of conservation efforts in India, and a significant purpose of the labs like the one at MAP, is to reach out to other museums and institutes to conserve their collections.
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