Chloé Lucas Conservation - Chloé
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started.
I was born and raised in France, a little South of Paris. I studied photograph conservation in Paris at the Institute national du patrimoine (http://www.inp.fr/) and first came to Ottawa in 2015 when I interned at the National Gallery of Canada. I loved Ottawa, it was the first time I felt at home in a city! I happened to meet my husband at the same time, which gave me even more motivation to come here. So I went back to France, graduated and then came to Ottawa as soon as I could. I arrived in March 2017 and that is when I started my business in photograph conservation.
What made you decide to get into the field of photograph conservation?
As a teenager I was looking for a job that would bring together my love for art, science and hands-on activities. Conservation is at the crossroad of the three and is the perfect mix! I put some more research in the field and discovered that the studies were divided into several specialties, including photographs, which I was practicing myself at the time. And from there I decided that photograph conservation was the way to go.
When you were studying Photograph Conservation in school, did you know that you would end up starting your own business?
The situation is very different between France and Canada. In France, very few conservators have a position in an institution. The vast majority of conservators work in private practice, and will submit quotes or tenders for institutions. So as a student in France you are told, during the 5 years of the degree, that you will be in private practice. Even if this path does not attract you, the chances of getting a position are very small, so at some point you just get used to the idea and you find a way to make it work. So when I came to Canada, I knew that job opportunities would be more common than in France; however they would still be rare for photograph conservators. As a result, I started my business.
Was it difficult to learn about the business world in Canada?
The hardest part is not necessarily linked to business. I found changing countries was difficult. You have to forget what you know and learn a whole new system for health coverage, banking, retirement plans, etc. And as you are no longer a kid or teenager people tend to not say or explain basic information. Regarding the business specifically, let’s say that starting a business in Canada is much simpler than it is in France, so I consider myself lucky! I also got a lot of help from Invest Ottawa courses and resources.
What is the process a business or individual goes through with you if they have an old photo?
The first step to any conservation intervention is a condition assessment, during which I will examine the photograph and list the damages that are present. At this point, any information about the history of the photograph - when it was made, how it was stored or exhibited, etc. - is helpful to understand why the damages occurred. Based on the photograph condition I will propose a course of treatment. I like to make the parallel with doctors: your doctor will do a check up, identify your symptoms, diagnose you and recommend a treatment.
I will then talk with the owner to explain the damages, diagnosis, treatment proposal and estimated cost in order to get her/his approval before proceeding with the intervention. The treatment is not set in stone, sometimes I discover halfway new elements that will impact my original understanding of the situation and treatment proposal which may lead to changes. I will always contact the owner prior to making any changes to the original plan to make sure they agree.
Once the treatment is over, the owner can come and pick up her/his photograph accompanied by written and photographic documentation – which includes the condition report, technical and historical information, the conservation treatment performed and preventive conservation recommendations. This is an important part of my job, which is here to provide information for the future care of the photograph.
This whole process follows the code of ethics and work methodology shared by conservators worldwide. In Canada, the Code of Ethics and Guidance for Practice has been published by the Canadian Association for Conservation of cultural property (https://www.cac-accr.ca/) and the Canadian Association for Professional Conservators (https://capc-acrp.ca/).
What are some of the most common problems you see?
Problems and damages are very specific to the materials that make up the photograph. If you take paper based photographs you will find a lot of mechanical damages such as tears, creases or losses (missing parts) for example.
The problems common to most photographic materials are pests and moulds. They feed on the protein based photographic materials, which weaken them and can cause flaking or loss of the photographic image.
Tell us a bit about some of the techniques you use?
The identification of the photographic technique used to create the object is very important to help choose which treatment or material is safe to use. So, for example, if the photograph in question is a collodion print-out print (http://www.graphicsatlas.org/identification/), I will know that the image carrying layer is soluble in alcohol. Therefore, to clean the photograph surface, I cannot use alcohol otherwise I will just dissolve the image. Based on our Code of Ethics the techniques and materials I use have to be as stable as possible in the long term and cannot react with the photograph’s materials.
What is the most unique or memorable piece you’ve worked on?
Every photograph’s history is fascinating. If you go for “unique”, I would mention the daguerreotypes I worked on when I was at the National Gallery of Canada. Daguerreotypes are the first commercially viable photographs, invented by French painter Louis-Jacques Mandé Daguerre in 1839. They are “direct positives” meaning that they are made directly by exposure to light and development, without a negative, meaning that it cannot be duplicated. They have a very specific appearance and feeling to them that is striking.
Is there a piece of art or photo you would love to be able to work on?
As a rule of thumb, the more the photographis damaged, the happier I am because it means a challenging treatment! You never stop learning in conservation. There will always be a situation I have never encountered. That being said, French photographer Brassaï once took a picture of my great grandmother. I would love to work on this photograph .
What is the difference between photograph conservation and photograph restoration?
As conservators, we differentiate between the various aspects of our jobs. We will distinguish between:
preventive conservation, being all actions you can take on your photographs’ environment to prevent damages - such as climate control, pest management, monitoring of exhibition conditions, etc.;
conservation treatment, which are the treatments you take in order to stabilize your photograph;
restoration treatment, being the treatments to restore the original aspect of the photograph, such as filling the missing parts or inpainting the image losses to blend them and make the viewer forget that they exist. This has to be distinguished from digital restoration, where you digitize the object, improve its appearance on the computer, then re-print it - which is different from the job I do.
The environment you work in is just as important as the techniques you use to conserve the photos. Tell us a bit about the importance of room temperature, cleanliness, etc.
The environment in which artifacts, including photographs, are stored is of paramount importance because some damages are irreversible.
For example, light exposure induces colour changes and fading onto colour photographs. We currently do not know how to treat it without damaging the photograph further; so in order to prevent the damage from happening or slow it down, we are going to monitor the exhibition conditions and the climate in which it is stored – a.k.a preventive conservation.