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Preserving Gabriel García Márquez’s life and legacy

By Diana Diaz Canas

Since the Harry Ransom Center acquired the archive of Colombian Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez, Ransom Center staff have been collaborating to process, digitize, and perform conservation treatments for the materials in the collection.

 

Upon the archive’s arrival at the Ransom Center, photography, book, and paper conservators inspected the many boxes of materials in order to determine the physical condition and immediate needs of the collection. At first glance, most materials appeared to be in very good condition with nothing needing urgent care.

 

Once the preliminary inspection was complete, Ransom Center archivist Daniela Lozano began processing the materials. She began a thorough inventory and, in doing so, discovered specific photographs in need of conservators’ attention. Daniela brought these to me in the photography conservation lab.

Conservator consolidating a crack in the gelatin emulsion layer of the photograph. Photo by Pete Smith. /<br />Restauradora consolidando una grieta en la emulsión de gelatina de la fotografía. Fotografía por Pete Smith.
Conservator consolidating a crack in the gelatin emulsion layer of the photograph. Photo by Pete Smith. /
Restauradora consolidando una grieta en la emulsión de gelatina de la fotografía. Fotografía por Pete Smith.

 

One item I treated is a black and white photograph of Gabriel García Márquez in his later years posed in front of an abstract painting. The photograph had two folds causing long, horizontal cracks along the image and a small amount of image loss.

 

To prevent further image loss it was necessary to stabilize the cracks and the emulsion that was lifting. As a first step, I performed a general surface cleaning using soft brushes and cotton swabs on the emulsion side, and sulfur-free vinyl erasers on the back of the photograph. The next step was to consolidate and reduce the cracked areas as much as possible, and adhere the pieces of emulsion that were lifting. To do this I worked under a microscope and used very small brushes, a Teflon spatula, and light weights to apply photographic-grade gelatin diluted in distilled water. These steps re-adhered the lifted pieces of emulsion, reduced the separation the crack had caused, and improved the stability and appearance of the image.

 

Conservator performing surface cleaning on a black and white photograph. Photo by Pete Smith. /<br />Restauradora llevando a cabo procesos de limpieza en la superficie de una fotografía a blanco y negro. Fotografía por Pete Smith.
Conservator performing surface cleaning on a black and white photograph. Photo by Pete Smith. /
Restauradora llevando a cabo procesos de limpieza en la superficie de una fotografía a blanco y negro. Fotografía por Pete Smith.

 

I let the photograph rest sandwiched between blotters, glass, and light weight to let it dry after the gelatin treatment. As a final step I provided some extra support to the previously folded areas using starch paste to adhere strips of very thin Japanese paper to the back of the photograph.

 

Detail of conservator working under the microscope to consolidate the emulsion layer. Photo by Pete Smith. / Detalle de la restauradora trabajando bajo microscopio para consolidar la emulsión. Fotografía por Pete Smith.
Detail of conservator working under the microscope to consolidate the emulsion layer. Photo by Pete Smith. / Detalle de la restauradora trabajando bajo microscopio para consolidar la emulsión. Fotografía por Pete Smith.

 

The photograph is now stable, and will rejoin the other items in the archive for viewing by many eager scholars and researchers.

 

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