Edward Burtynsky, “The 10,000-year Gallery”

Posted on Thursday, July 24th, 02008 by Stewart Brand
link Categories: Seminars   chat 0 Comments

Edward Burtynsky

Stone ink gallery

Photographer Edward Burtynsky made a formal proposal for a permanent art gallery in the chamber that encloses the 10,000-year Clock in its Nevada mountain. The gallery would consist of art in materials as durable as the alloy steel and jade of the Clock itself, and it would be curated slowly over the centuries to reflect changing interests in the rolling present and the accumulating past. Photographs in particular should be in the 10,000-year Gallery, Burtynsky said, “because they tell us more than any previous medium. When we think of our own past, we tend to think in terms of family photos.”

But photographic prints, especially color prints, degrade badly over time. Burtynsky went on a quest for a technical solution…

Read the rest of Stewart Brand’s Summary

  • Hmm, a strange and surprising endeavor for an artist known for their environmental and social awareness.

    I recently read that certain elements will soon become extinct, due to limited supplies and the high demand from manufacturers of flat-screen televisions and computer monitors.

    And now Burtynsky (who photographs the environmental degradation that results from mining) plans to dive into the magenta stone that can only be found in one mine in Germany.

    This seems hypocritical.

    And who really needs a photograph to last for 10,000 years? The technology to produce exact reproductions of all of Burtynsky’s work already exists.

    So this also seems egotistical.

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  • Interesting, the idea of preserving imagery that is inherently beautiful, yet manifests the destruction and thoughtlessness of our behaviors. While I savor the courageous work of Burtynsky, met him, connected with him at TED, watched the evolution of his work, I wonder if we could consider the preservations of imagery that celebrates, hope fully, the good things that we can accomplish together, as a mindful confederacy, as well…


    Perhaps that’s part of the plan, too.

    Both sides now, perhaps.

    Beauty found, beauty seen — and perhaps held for 10,000 years

    Tim Girvin | girvin@girvin.com | http://www.girvin.com

  • Michael

    I’m curious about the process. Where is the inactive link on Seattle supposed to direct us?

  • I disagree with the above post. most of what we know about ancient cultures these artifacts span the ages. our own culture is based on media that does not last. Its not like some archaeologist will dig up my hard disk in a thousand years an plug it in. Once the technology used to read it is gone most of our writings will disappear. there is a very strong possibility that we will leave no trace of ourselves once western culture fades or collapses, as all cultures do. our buildings will disappear there is no paper record (its mostly electronic). I think that it is a good thing to do. can you imagine seeing a photograph from 10,000 years ago!!! If it works our ancestors will be able to see the past in vivid colour.

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  • wagonjak

    Why aren’t any of these prints shown here…stories about images should contain some of those images, and not just words…the only link to Seattle produces nothing but a dark grey screen for me…any links to images I can see?
    Thanks though, interesting story..

  • chris

    This sounds like the old Tricolor Carbro process, which was used mostly for advertising photography in the 1950s, not because it was archival but because it could be retouched easily. It was supplanted by the Dye-Transfer process which was used until digital image manipulation took over around 1990.

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  • Roger Baker

    The most permanent media, probably, is some variety of the photoceramic process, whereupon pigments chemically resistant to the action of fused ceramic and glass compositions are fused into the structure of a ceramic base to give a permanent photographic image, more or less impervious to the elements and thus suitable for tombstones. This photographic process was once commonly used for this purpose in southern Italy and Europe.

    It is still practiced today to some degree in the United States, although the modern results usually fall well short of what is technically possible. I believe Queen Victoria wore a photoceramic pendant of Price Albert.

    If the ancient Romans had somehow been able to employ this process, many of the interesting and minute details of their everyday life could probably be reconstructed from close examination of the images on the photoceramic shards.

    The substitution process was a version of the photoceramic process based on wet chemical replacement of the silver content in a wet plate image using a dissolved salt of a more inert precious metal, often iridium or gold. The collodion film image was separated from its supporting glass plate before or after chemical substitution. This thin film bearing the image was fired onto enameled copper or anther vitreous surface.

    The dusting-on photoceramic process, as fully developed in England and Europe by about 1900 could, when practiced skillfully, record detail with about the tonal range and resolution of the best printing processes of the era. In other words it takes a good magnifying glass to see the finest features of carefully made photoceramic images that have been printed from diapositives made from collodion wet plates, and the possible image resolution is unknown.

    The British Journal of Photography from before 1900 has a number of recipes, mostly based on the light exposure and photo-polymerization of a soluble chromate, a colloid base, and some type of sugar coated on a surface, dried, exposed under a transparent positive image. The sticky layer was then dusted over with pigment, with or without subsequent image transfer before firing. As with the substitution process, the very best results probably result from the transfer of the dusted image over to a fresh ceramic base using a support film before firing.

    The traditional ceramic coloring pigments containing cobalt and other metal oxides or vitreous solvent resistant spinels can be used to form an image. Soluble colorants can diffuse sideways into the vitreous surface and lose detail, but precious metals like gold, iridium, platinum and palladium don’t dissolve. The best insoluble colorant for making jet black images is reputed to have been iridium.

    It is also possible to fire images between layers of glass. For example dusted-on images made from chemically precipitated gold particles can be fired into the surface of black glass, burnished, and then a clear glass layer with a similar expansion fused (a bonding process called slumping) on top of this image. Such a process permanently embeds the photographic image underneath a fused transparent glass cover layer.

    This results in a finely detailed photoceramic image that may be as permanently protected that archivally rivals what it is possible to achieve with other technology. The protective glass cover layer could be re-polished to reveal the embedded image in its original state if the photoceramic surface should ever become corroded or damaged over time.

    Some examples of photoceramic technology that I experimented with, mostly in the 1970s, are permanently retained under my name in the well-known History of Photography collection in the Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

    Roger Baker, Austin

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  • Norah

    I’ve been following these blogs for weeks and feel compelled now to make a few clarifications. The photograph, colour separations, and pigment films presented at the seminar on July 23rd were not the work of Edward Burytynsky, as everyone in the blogs and at the seminar seem to assume, but of my husband, John Bladen Bentley who is one of only three artists who have done the exhaustive and intensive research and development to resurrect the colour carbon transfer print.

    The discussion has been focussed on permanence, which, of course is the nature of the discussion of the Long Now Foundation. However, in addition to their permanence, these pigments (not inks) have been especially chosen for their colour fidelity. Colour carbon transfer prints have a language unparalleled in any other printmaking process. These prints have the longest tonal scale, highest resolution, colour fidelity and the largest colour palette — John Bentley and Tod Gangler, in Seattle, can print colours unavailable to any other print makers. As well, to promote their longevity, these prints are unaffected by humidity and pollutants in the air.

    Some writers seem outraged at the notion of the exploitation of the magenta stone in the process of making colour carbon prints. These pigments have been developed and mined for the auto paint industry. One could reasonably argue that we shouldn’t be exploiting the resources of our planet for such purpose but the reality is that for those writers that drive cars, I’m certain they wouldn’t want their paint jobs to fade in a matter of months. The use by less than a handful of artists is minimal: to make 16 sheets of magenta film uses 18 grams of pigment. And I would think their use in the production of art is a far more worthy purpose.

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  • Kevin Kihn

    What about *transparent* colors? I get the impression that carbon transfer prints as well as the photoceramic prints described in Roger Baker’s post are intended for opaque fields of color on an opaque ground. But suppose an artist wants to create an image with the transparent luminosity of stained glass, to be backlit, yet also possessing a highly controlled and subtle tonal range, as in a painting or a photograph? Mr. Baker describes pigment being laid on a base of black glass, then covered with transparent glass which is fused by slumping onto the image and said base. Would it be possible to use the same process, but sandwich the image between two layers of transparent glass, and producing it in transparent or translucent colors? Permanence being a sine qua non.

    A separate question: in another post I suggested the possibility of archiving the contents of the great museums of the world, meaning works of visual art. Is this idea in contemplation for the Long Now project?

    Returning to image permanence: I have read that Egyptian wall murals which have endured for thousands of years are painted in watercolor, and that you can easily damage one by dragging a wet finger across a tomb wall. I suppose the colors are probably derived from mineral sources, and hence non-biodegradable. I also distinctly remember seeing a photo in an art book of an ancient Greek drawing done on a slab of marble. I’m not sure of the drawing medium – possibly charcoal? As in the caves at Lascaux.

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  • I have a nice collection of handmade four color carbon transfer prints depicting a great variety of elements from our present culture. I’ve worked on them for the past 25 years. It would be nice to have them seen somewhere in the far future. The prints are of my private photograph collection of my own work. Materialf for the process were hand made in my home lab using permanent pigments and fine art papers.

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  • I recently read that certain elements will soon become extinct, due to limited supplies and the high demand from manufacturers of flat-screen televisions and computer monitors.

  • bigeyemac

    photographic prints, especially color prints, degrade badly over time.

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