To promote awareness and a clearer understanding of different pathways into specializations that require particular training, the Emerging Conservation Professionals Network (ECPN) is conducting a series of interviews with conservation professionals in these specialties. We began the series with East Asian Art conservation, Electronic Media Group (EMG) and continued with practitioners in AIC’s Wooden Artifact Group (WAG). Now we are interviewing conservation professionals working in Photographic Materials. We’ve asked our interviewees to share some thoughts about their career paths, which we hope will inspire emerging conservation professionals and provide valuable insight into these areas of our professional field.
For our final interview from the Photographic Materials series, we spoke with Bryanna Knotts, Research Scholar in the Department of Photograph Conservation at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in Tempe, Arizona and have a deep affinity for the desert. After completing my undergraduate education at the University of Arizona, I moved to New York City to pursue my MA in Art History at the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU (2013). I recently graduated with my MS from the Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU in 2019, where I concentrated on photographic materials. Currently, I am completing a two-year fellowship in the Department of Photograph Conservation at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. My research project focuses on potential methods for monitoring the formation of silver mirroring, a degradation pattern associated with silver-based photographs.
How were you first introduced to conservation, and why did you decide to pursue conservation?
I was first introduced to conservation while completing my MA at the IFA. I took a course about the history of conservation and conservation ethics taught by Michele Marincola. I met with her and expressed my interest in pursuing conservation and she helped me get two of my pre-program internships. I studied art history and biology as an undergraduate and was excited to find a hands-on profession that brought together my love of both art and science.
Of all specializations, what contributed to your decision to pursue Photograph conservation.
While I was completing my prerequisites before applying to conservation programs, I was working in the Digital Media Department at The Met. One of the projects I was involved with was The Met Around the World, which profiled the global scope of the museum’s inter-institutional activities. For this project, I interviewed Nora Kennedy. I cannot recall exactly what the interview was about, but I was so taken with her work that I ventured to ask if she was accepting pre-program interns. Luckily, I was able to join her department as a pre-program intern for two years. I was delighted by the variety of materials that comprise photographs and learning about the chemistry behind different photographic processes, which further cemented my interest in pursuing photograph conservation.
What has been your training pathway? Please list any universities, apprenticeships, technical experience, and any related jobs or hobbies.
My training pathway began during my undergraduate years. Though I had not yet decided to pursue conservation, I left the University of Arizona with all of the required art history and chemistry courses through my studies in art history and biology. While I was at the IFA completing my MA in Art History, I held two pre-program internships at the Brooklyn Museum and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). At the Brooklyn Museum, I had the opportunity to experience a variety of conservation specialties, including paper, objects, and paintings conservation. At AMNH, I worked in book and paper conservation. After completing my MA, I began my two-year pre-program internship in photograph conservation at The Met. During this time, I finished my remaining studio art classes to fulfill course prerequisites. I took several studio art courses related to darkroom photography since I was confident I was going to pursue photograph conservation as a specialty.
I started at the Conservation Center in 2016. During graduate school, I interned at the George Eastman Museum and The Met. Because I already had my MA in Art History from the IFA, I was able to complete the Conservation Center’s four-year program in three years. I spent my internship year at the Art Institute of Chicago and returned to New York City this past September to begin my fellowship at The Met.
As an aside, I participated in two workshops offered by the Image Permanence Institute (IPI) during my pre-program years and graduate school: Photographic Print Identification and Preservation and Digital Print Preservation. I highly recommend them for those interested in focusing on photograph conservation because they greatly enhanced my knowledge of the wide range of photographic processes (and my ability to identify them).
Are there any particular skills that you feel are important or unique to your discipline?
Photographs are composed of many different types of materials and can take a variety of shapes. During my time at the Conservation Center, I was encouraged to take treatment courses that were decidedly outside of my wheelhouse and I learned invaluable skills that have improved my practice. It’s quite helpful to have some conservation knowledge of materials such as glass, metal, and plastic. Along this same vein, collaboration is important in photograph conservation in the event that you come across an unfamiliar material.
What are some of your current projects, research, or interests?
My research project at The Met focuses on silver mirroring. Mirroring is notoriously difficult to capture using standard photographic methods so I’m exploring potential methods for tracking the development of mirroring over time using different analytical equipment, such as a glossmeter and spectrophotometer. My goal is to establish a protocol for measuring and/or imaging mirrored photographs that can be implemented for mirrored works in the collection.
In your opinion, what is an important research area or need in your specialization?
I’m a fairly recent addition to the field, but I’m personally interested in the use of gels on photographs. I’ve explored a few facets of the application of gels for different treatment approaches, but I’d like to research the topic further.
Do you have any advice for prospective emerging conservators who would like to pursue this specialization?
Along with the workshops offered by IPI, I recommend the Photographic Chemistry for Preservation series if you’re looking for more in-depth knowledge about the photographic image. I would also advise taking foundational courses in darkroom photography and/or alternative photographic processes to gain a better understanding on how different photographs are made. Lastly, never hesitate to reach out members of the conservation community for advice or help!