Mystery Glass Negatives from Land's End May 10, 2012
Before there were digital image files and even before there was film, photographers captured images on glass plate negatives. In the collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco there are over seventy of these glass plate negatives depicting scenes of Landís End and old San Francisco. Discovered in the basement of the old de Young, these century-old negatives were in desperate need of cleaning and re-housing. When the negatives came into the paper conservation lab at the Legion of Honor for proper care, the labor intensive project proved a perfect opportunity for pre-program conservation student Jennifer Martinez.
Jennifer began with some sleuthing on the photographers behind the lens. With the help of historians John Freeman and John Martini, she learned that the gelatin dry-plate glass negatives were shot predominantly by the photographers (and brothers) W.C.and J.R. Billington. The Billingtons owned several studios during this time, most notably the Sutro Heights Gallery at the Landís End Parapet, where they sold specialty views of Seal Rocks, Landís End and the Golden Gate.
Under the supervision of paper conservator Victoria Binder, Jennifer removed the plates from their envelopes and cleaned them with a bulb blower and soft brush to remove loose dust. Special care was taken on the delicate emulsion, which is the thin layer of image-containing gelatin attached to one side of the glass base.