U of S | Mailing List Archive | alt-photo-process-l | Re: preservation of negatives/slides/prints

Re: preservation of negatives/slides/prints

From: Gawain Weaver <gawain.weaver@gmail.com>
Subject: RE: preservation of negatives/slides/prints
Date: Sun, 18 Mar 2007 17:20:59 -0400

> While archival enclosures certainly never hurt, temperature
> and relative humidity are far more important.

It depends.

Untoned b&w prints and films are susceptible to fumes given
off from non-archival paper and adhesives. I have some prints
that exhibited "mirroring" problems in a few years, although
it was kept in dark at room temperature (New England climate,
no special climate control). I carefully examined all
materials enclosed together and it was a bit of masking tape
that was degrading. You probably have similar
experience. Other prints similarly prepared and stored but
without masking tape didn't have any sign of degradation.

Another thing is cellulose film base. Cellulose films should
be ideally kept at low humidity, low temperature condition and
NOT sealed. A practical method is to open the container
several times a year in a room with clean dry air to let the
film breathe. Glass plates and polyester films (used in modern
sheet films but rarely in roll and 35mm format) don't have
this problem. Early generation acetate films, which are
1-acetate, 2-acetate, 2.5-acetate, etc. but not complete
3-acetate, are problematic. If your film box smells like
vinegar, watch out. The degradation is self-accelerating and
it's in the fast path downward if the smell is detected.

> Unless you have some immediate use for the digital files, I
> would not rush to digitize.

One concern is that the options for film scanners have
decreased greatly in past few years. It's hard to predict what
will happen in next decade.

> If you are turning to digital for preservation, you should give it some
> serious thought before heading down that road. Though there can be good
> reasons for doing so, it's a lot more work and a lot riskier than proper
> storage of the originals.

On the other hand, if there are lots of negatives that aren't
printed, it's hard to catalog images and assess what is the
value of the collection without doing something in this
area. It may be that "digital proofing" may help decide what
to do with the collection, if you want to do a bit more than
just storing away.