Eugene O. Goldbeck.
Panoramic portrait of the 103rd Aero Squadron (Lafayette Escadrille). ca. 1919.
By Diana Diaz and Barbara Brown
The conservation department of the Ransom Center is responsible for the care and preservation of the Center's collections. This feature highlights repair and conservation work on collection items.
In preparation for the Ransom Center's current exhibition The World at War, 1914–1918, a group of panoramic photographs was selected for display in the galleries. One of these panoramas is a group portrait of the 103rd Aero Squadron (Lafayette Escadrille), the first U.S. aviation pursuit squadron in combat in France during World War I. Photographer Eugene O. Goldbeck took the picture around 1919, when these soldiers returned to the U.S. from France.
This photograph was sent to the conservation lab because of its tightly rolled configuration. Over time, due to aging and unknown storage conditions before the print came to the Ransom Center, the photograph had become brittle and slightly rigid in its rolled state. During previous attempts to open and unroll the print, some tears left a large fragment of one corner almost completely detached. Its brittleness and fragile condition prevented the photograph from being unrolled safely. The only identification of the subject matter of the photograph was a handwritten inscription in pencil on the verso of the print, on the outermost edge of the roll.
To unroll the photograph safely and make it accessible for exhibition and research, it was necessary to relax the paper fibers and equilibrate the emulsion layer at the same time through humidification. To do this, Head of Photographs Conservation Barbara Brown and Conservator Diana Diaz used an ultrasonic humidifier and a special chamber in which the relative humidity was gradually raised. The rolled photograph was placed into the chamber, and over a two-hour period the panorama was slowly unrolled until it was evenly humidified and completely open. The photograph was then placed in a weighted drying system to flatten it. Once dry, the tears along the right edge were aligned and mended on the back using Japanese paper and wheat starch paste, reattaching and stabilizing the damaged corner.
The image is on view in the exhibition through August 3.