Paper and photographs

We conserve paper artworks in our collection and preserve the images that artists have made on paper

Photograph of people checking

Paper conservators carrying out a backing removal on a large work on paper by Terry Atkinson in the Paper Conservation studio

photograph of someone checking an artwork

Examining Los Moscos by Mark Bradford

Works on paper in our collection range from sketchbooks and watercolours by J.M.W. Turner, to modern and contemporary photographs, prints and drawings by leading international artists. Works on paper and photographs make up almost 90% of our collection.

Our duties

  • Document and understand the composition and condition of artwork
  • Carry out treatments with minimal intervention to the artwork, complying with a strict code of conservation ethics
  • Instigate the best methods of storage, transport, handling and display
  • Undertake artist’s interviews
  • Investigate new methods and materials in the conservation of works on paper and photographs
  • Prepare artworks for display, ranging from acrylic supports and book cradles to mounting and framing

Challenges we face

Works on paper and photographs can be extremely varied in composition and durability. They can be made from ephemeral or light-sensitive products like newsprint and dyes, or from long-lasting materials such as cotton-based paper and pigment-based inks. They are vulnerable to light, pollution, poor environments and rough handling. Modern and contemporary works may also raise challenges such as the production of artwork with digital-initiated art and the use of outdated materials and techniques.

Current projects

  • Storage and transport methods for pastels and friable media
  • Preservation of works with adhesive tapes and plastic substrates
  • Survey of photographic artworks with a special focus on identification and condition of the analogue colour prints
  • New methods for displaying unframed artworks
  • Documentation of J.M.W Turner’s sketchbooks
  • Developing reusable book cradles and showcase display methods