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Preserving Family Photographs
by Susan L. Dunn Morua
Now that most modern photographs are digital images, and film negatives are becoming less common, it is becoming increasingly important that we preserve our photographic prints for our descendents. They will not only preserve our memories, they will also tell our descendents who we were, how we lived, and what we liked to do. In addition, incidental details within our photographs will give provide future researchers with valuable information about our society and our culture. So if you want to extend the life of your collection into succeeding generations, here are a few tips that will help your photographs survive.
Temperature and Humidity
Photographs are actually complex structures made of layers of paper and chemicals and as a result they are sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity. Fluctuating levels of humidity and temperature promote the movement of moisture between the different layers, and this movement speeds up the natural rate of chemical deterioration. Also, high temperatures combined with high rates of humidity can cause microscopic mould spores to begin growing, and mould is almost impossible to remove.
The most important thing to remember is that photographs should be stored in a location where temperature and humidity levels remain constant so attics, roof spaces, and cellars should be avoided.
Photographs should also not be stored near airing cupboards, radiators, hot water pipes, or sunny windows. In most homes, spare bedrooms, dining rooms, or studies work the best.
You will need to use materials and products that have been specifically designed for use with photographs, because these will slow the natural aging process. If you don’t use these materials and products, you may find that your photos, despite your careful handling and storage, are discolouring and deteriorating more quickly than you would like.
Any materials and products you are considering buying for the storage of your photographs should not only be acid-free, they should also have passed the PAT test. PAT is the acronym for Photographic Activity Test. This test meets international standards for ensuring that products so labelled do not contain harmful materials that will interact with the chemicals in photographs.
You are going to need separate storage for any negatives, because the chemicals present in negatives emit gases that are actually harmful to photographic prints. But having said this, it is important to preserve negatives, because they are the camera originals of your photograph collection.
Newer negatives can be stored in specially designed polyethylene or polyester sleeves, but older ones must be stored in paper sleeves, so to be safe, it may be best to use specially designed paper sleeves for all your negatives. You will need to remember to write, in pencil, a reference code on each negative envelope that will link your negatives to your photographs as well as to your notes.
If the album, however, contains self-adhesive pages, you will need to transfer these photographs into a new album, because these albums rely on sticky coatings as well as unknown plastics. But before doing this, you may want to photograph each page of the original album to record any captions as well as the original layout of the prints.
Susan Dunn Morua has a Master of Science in Library Science with a specialisation in Rare Books, Photographs, and Historical Documents. Susan is a Freelance Archivist as well as a Declutterer.
The article was originally supplied by realchangesltd.com but they appear to no longer be online.
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