Condition is always difficult to assess and somewhat subjective. Our rating system is an effort to make a meaningful distinction between the found condition of photographs that are, in 2017, between 35 and 85 years old. There are no standards in the industry or bright lines between ratings. Each rating can contain a range of conditions and items, and those ranges get progressively wider as conditions deteriorate. We attempt to be detailed, clear, and consistent in our assessment of the condition of photographs, but cannot guarantee that sharper eyes will not find things we miss. Our condition reports note EVERYTHING we see under a VERY rigorous examination by TRAINED experts, and we are known among our peers to be excessively detailed. These reports, on the face of it, can be disconcerting, even when the condition is rated as “Excellent”. Our rating depends on how visible damage is. Therefore it is possible that a number of items that are barely visible in glaring light can look more severe on a written condition report than would a single issue visible 3 feet away, whereas in person, the viewer might not even note the multiple items. Also, some types of surface damage could only or are most likely to have happened, intentionally or otherwise, in the artist’s studio. A small wrinkle in the emulsion layer, or etching a dark spot in a light sky are two examples. When this occurs we note it, but if it was acceptable to Ansel to release, we do not degrade the condition rating based on that. Our stance is that if it was good enough for him, who are we to negatively judge the condition.
Many issues noted here can be effectively treated with proper and qualified conservation. The cost of such treatments are generally not insignificant, and can take a considerable amount of time due to multiple passes or subsequent steps. Conservation work or evidence thereof is not a negative factor in assessing the condition or value of a print. We evaluate the current condition, not what it may have been or what it may become.
Print Condition Ratings
Pristine Absolutely no damage to the print surface Studio Quality Only minor flaws or imperfections that would have occurred in the Artist’s studio and print was deemed acceptable to offer by the Artist Excellent Minor flaws or damage to print surface, visible ONLY under close inspection in specular or raking light Very Good Minor flaws or damage to print surface, visible upon inspection under standard gallery lighting conditions Good Flaws or damage that draws the eye under normal viewing conditions once known or seen Fair Flaws or damage immediately apparent under normal viewing conditions Poor Shipping with broken glass, folded, oil rags…
Mount condition is generally not noted. If there are notable issues of damage (tape, glue, dings, foxing) or discoloration, this condition will be noted on the condition report but does not impact the condition rating of the print in general.
Normal Viewing Conditions Standard gallery lighting conditions, lighting at 25-55 degree angle from print surface, on wall and under glazing, viewing straight on from 2 feet or more from print Inspection Standard gallery lighting conditions, lighting at 25-55 degree angle from print surface, on wall and under glazing, viewing straight on or at angle from 24″ or less distance from print. Close inspection Out of frame and handling, viewing in specular and raking light, normally 6-24″ distance Examination Out of frame and handling, viewing in specular and raking light, 1-6″ distance with magnification lenses
Specular light Glare of reflected light, best light for locating and identifying surface condition issues Raking light Light close to parallel to print surface, good for identifying texture and changes in topography of print surface Normal viewing light No glare, bright for viewing image and tonality
Print Surface Top of emulsion layer. often collects dust, outgassing, films of extremely fine deposits, very fine scratches and marks that may be professionally cleaned by a conservator Emulsion Layer Image layer, consisting of silver particles in a gelatin binder. Very thin. Delicate during processing, although much more durable after selenium toning Support Layer Fiber paper layer that supports emulsion layer Mount tissue Tissue that, when heated, adheres the photograph to the mount Mount Layer of material to support and protect the photographic print
Common Condition Terms
Spotting Deposit of ink, intentionally done, to darken an area on the print. Can be a result of dust on the negative or paper during printing, or similar light blocking anomalies Etch & Spot Intentional removal of emulsion layer and subsequent coloring of substrate, performed in Artist’s studio to remove dark spots in light areas Wet Paper Crease / Crimp Crescent shaped variation in surface topography, typically a result of handling a print prior to drying or mounting Wet Paper Wrinkle Wrinkle in emulsion layer, happens during print processing. Extremely rare with Adams prints Grit under mount Crescent shaped variation in surface topography, typically a result of handling a print prior to drying or mounting
Wipe Marks Multiple linear blemishes, very fine, running parallel, as from a dusting cloth. Thumbnail Scrape Shallow, wide, light impression on surface, as from the flat edge of a fingernail. More often a change in texture and reflectivity rather than change in topography Indentation Point or linear mark of varying intensity, soft edged, with no break in the emulsion layer Scratch Point or linear mark of varying intensity, hard edged, with no break in the emulsion layer Cut Point or linear mark of varying intensity, hard edged, with break in emulsion layer Rolling Grit Multiple point indentations in a line. Typically caused by grit between print surface and surface above rolling when surfaces shift relative to each other
Compression Mark / Area Change in general thickness of paper and or mount, with defined but not necessarily sharp linear edge Accretion/Deposit/Deposition Foreign substance on surface of print. Typically can be removed, although how easily is not easy to determine
Polishing / Burnishing Area of significantly smoother surface with greater reflectivity Rubbing Area of surface texture difference, lower reflectivity due to roughing top emulsion layer Abrasion Area of surface texture and topography difference, may include scratches and scuffs, but no emulsion loss or break in emulsion Scouring Area of surface texture and topography difference, may include cuts and scrapes, with some loss of or break in emulsion
Emulsion Loss Absence of emulsion layer, exposed substrate. By definition variation in surface topography. Edge Chip Loss of emulsion at the edge of print, exposes substrate Edge Bang Lifting or compression of emulsion, possibly with substrate, along edge of print Corner Bang Lifting of emulsion from substrate in corner of print. Sometimes includes loss of emulsion
Tissue Release Area of print lifting from mount, commonly near the edge. Tunneling Areas of print lifting from mount, typically not near the edge. Creates large bubbling effect.
Foxing Growth of mildew on surface of print. Typically round, can often be removed with conservation, sometimes leaves a mark. Foxing on mount commonly yellow brown Silvering Ageing and oxidation. Dark areas develop reflective “silver” sheen, often accompanied by a sepia colored staining. Sheen can typically be removed, staining more difficult Patina Discoloration, normally sepia in tone, due to oxidation, age, or extended contact with acidic surfaces. Sometimes a remnant of silvering. Can vary in both intensity and coverage.
Common Variations in Intensity
Point blemish Point mark on surface layer, affecting surface texture, but no noticeable change in surface topography. Generally ranges in size from pin point to pencil lead Point Impression Point mark in emulsion layer, with noticeable variation in surface topography. Possibly deeper than emulsion layer, but no loss or break in emulsion Indentation Point indentation, noticeably deeper than emulsion layer, with no loss of emulsion or break in emulsion surface Nick Point indentation, shallow, with loss of emulsion or break in surface Pit Point indentation, well into support layer, with loss of emulsion or break in surface
Linear blemish Continuous point blemish on surface layer, very fine, affecting surface texture, but no noticeable change in surface topography Indentation Linear indentation in emulsion layer, with noticeable variation in surface topography. Soft edge, with no loss or break in emulsion. Generally shallow Gradations of indentations The eye can see a much finer variation than can reasonably be measured, therefore our use of common analogies rather than actual measurements
Very fine Extremely narrow, barely visible under close inspection is specular light, as from dust on a non-abrasive surface
Hairline Human hair thickness, also similar to a fine grain of sand
Moderate Similar in thickness to copy paper
Hard Similar in thickness to standard business cards
Gouging Ball point pen thickness or wider
Scratch Linear indentation in emulsion layer, with noticeable variation in surface topography. Hard edge, with no loss or break in emulsion Gradations of scratches The eye can see a much finer variation than can reasonably be measured, therefore our use of common analogies rather than actual measurements
Fine Very narrow, readily visible under close inspection in specular light, as from the very tip of a razor blade
Hairline Human hair thickness
Moderate Similar in thickness to copy paper
Hard Similar in thickness to standard business cards
Gouging Lifting cuts as from broken glass
Scuff Linear mark on surface, with width. No noticeable variation in surface topography in raking light. Typically changes reflectivity of surface Scrape Linear mark on surface, with width. Noticeable variation in surface topography, but does not break emulsion surface Impression Area of irregular indentation on surface, typically deeper than emulsion layer, but does not break emulsion surface Graze Area of irregular indentation on surface, shallow, including loss of emulsion or break in surface Gouge Area of irregular indentation on surface, including loss of emulsion or break in emulsion surface.
Ageing Mount Discoloration, from cream to manila to butter to orange and all points in between
Light Cream colored or similar
Moderate Manila colored or similar
Severe Butter colored or similar
Re-use Allowed with Attribution – You are welcome to re-use this reference chart, please attribute The Ansel Adams Gallery (www.anseladams.com) if republishing.