University of Texas at Arlington

Scholarly Communication

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Resources for Identifying Graphic Materials

by Samantha Dodd May 18, 2018

The Image Permanence Institute (IPI) is a nonprofit, university-based laboratory devoted to preservation research. IPI provides many resources and tools for cultural institutions such as libraries, archives, and museums to enable the preservation of image collections and material culture.

One of the tools offered by the IPI is the Graphics Atlas. The atlas “is a sophisticated resource that presents a unique, object-based approach for the identification and characterization of prints and photographs”. Those interested in identifying materials found in their collections can use the features of this atlas to help make determination as to the type, age, and condition of those images. The atlas has several useful features including guided tours, tutorials, timelines, and comparisons.


Take for example this image. Using the Graphics Atlas’ search features and guides we can identify the image’s support as paper-based. The Visual Guide for Color aids in identifying the tonality of an image as well as any deterioration seen. By examining the surface sheen and magnification we can identify this print as a turn-of-the-century collodion POP (printed out paper).



Why does identification matter?  Different materials require different preservation methods. Some materials, such as certain color images, deteriorate faster in both light and dark environments. Putting these materials into deep freeze slows down their deterioration, and provides additional time for care, digitization, and access. Identification also helps date materials, giving further context to collections previously undated.


Samantha Dod, Special Collections archivist from the University of Texas at Arlington Libraries’ Special Collections attended a photo identification workshop this week at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas. The workshop was provided by staff from the IPI and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. At the workshop Samantha learned: all about photographic materials and technologies, as well as “key identifying features", how to look at prints and photographs, how to use the Graphics Atlas as a reference resource for identification, and most importantly how properly store, handle, and display photographic materials and environmental management strategies for long-term preservation.


Special Collections at the University of Texas at Arlington Libraries is home to millions of negatives, thousands of prints and slides, hundreds of glass plate negatives, and a selection of daguerreotypes that document the history of the North Texas region. Notable image collections are the photo archives of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and of commercial photographers W.D. Smith, Jack White, Squire Haskins, and Basil Clemons. The collections of J.W. Dunlop and the Arlington Citizen-Journal focus on Arlington history. Training and education are key factors in the care and preservation of these materials. The librarians and archivists in Special Collections are dedicated to ensuring the long-term survival of this cultural heritage and to providing continued access to these resources.


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