Photo and Newspaper Preservation

Felicia Thomas
January 28, 2011
Baton Rouge, LA
Why preserve?
•To make records useable
•To lengthen the life of the document
•To maintain your legacy as an
individual or institution
•Digitization is not preservation!!!!!
Photo Preservation – First steps
•Take stock of your photo collection
•Keep your photos out of the sun, away from
fluctuations in temperature and humidity.
•Keep them away from the basement (if you
happen to have one) and out of the attic.
•Have a priceless photo on display? Copy it and
put the original away for safe-keeping.
Next …
•Once you gathered your photographs,
separate the negatives from the
photographs, and the color photographs
from the black and white photographs.
Photos of various eras and finish have
different chemical emulsifiers. These
chemicals often do not “get along.”
•Always note the provenance (where
it came from and what it is)
•Do you know the names of the
people and places depicted in the
photo? You may be the only one!
Making Notes…
• To make notes on a photograph, write on it with a
soft-lead pencil.
• There are “photograph-safe” pens on the market, but
they can sometimes bleed through the backing of
older photographs.
• Label digital photos, saving them with identifying
information. If a digital photo is important, print it
and hand label it.
• FYI: always have back ups of digital photo files.
Internal Vices
Photographs and negatives are
made up of three layers
Image layer
Binder layer
The base (paper or polyester)
Protective Storage
Separate photos
with a sheet of
acid-free paper
between each
Plastic Envelopes
For photos that you
need to see, use
envelopes made
from a safe ‘plastic’
like Mylar®
Good & Bad Plastics
Beware plastics!
Never use acetate
or “PVC”
Use only polyester,
polypropylene, and
Protective Storage Layers
Folders & Boxes
What about negatives?
This acetate negative, in the last stage of
deterioration, shows channeling where the
emulsion has separated from its base.
Examine the condition of materials
Remove containers and supplies that
are unsafe for the storage of historic
Promote storage conditions for the
collection that will help keep it safe and
in good condition
Storage and Handling (pt. 1)
•Photographs, like newspapers, are some
of the most volatile items in your
collection. They start decaying as soon as
they are produced.
•The number one thing you can do is to
adhere to the standards for
environmental control presented earlier.
Storage and Handling (pt. 2)
•Photographs are more technically difficult to
preserve because there are more varieties and
formats of photograph to identify and treat.
•There are, however, some general rules of
Photo Preservation Rule of Thumb - 1
• Keep photographs dry, away from light, and keep
them encased in acid-free enclosures that are slightly
larger than the photograph.
• You should be able to easily insert and remove the
photograph from the enclosure, grasping the
photograph by its edges.
Photo Preservation Rule of Thumb - 2
• If individual acid-free paper or acid-free plastic
enclosures are cost-prohibitive, two options are
• 1: group photographs by subject or type (all black
and white photographs of a particular era together,
for instance) and place them in an acid-free
photograph box.
• 2: If possible, place them in the box interleafed with
acid-free bond paper.
Photo Preservation Rule of Thumb - 3
• Touch the face of the photo or negative as little as
possible. Cotton gloves are an inexpensive option.
Fingerprints are forever and the oil and residue
contribute to the decay of the photograph.
• Pay attention to what else is touching the
photograph. Is there anything causing abrasion to
the photograph, even other photographs or a frame?
Photo Preservation Rule of Thumb - 4
• If a photograph is stuck either to another
photograph or in an album-- a very common
problem, especially with sticky emulsive layers or
cheap color photograph media and also on 19 th
century prints that have advanced decay… proceed
with extreme caution.
• Make copies of album pages or as much of the
problem photograph as possible.
• If in doubt, seek the advice of a more experienced
professional (online listservs are a source of free
Types of damage that can occur:
•Foxing (small brown spots probably caused by
mold or by the presence of tiny metal
•Tears, folds, and creases; dog-eared corners;
•Staining from rusted paper clips, deteriorated
rubber bands, or tape
•Loss of parts of the paper backing of the
More damage
•Distortion and staining from previous water
•Brittleness and fragility due to acidic
deterioration and light exposure;
•Discoloration or darkening due to acidity and
light exposure;
•Staining and weakening from mold growth
•Holes from insect infestation
• Acid migration
What to do?
•If damage has occurred to your photograph,
the most important thing to do is:
•Make a preservation scan
•Eliminate the cause of the damage if at all
• If the damage is from light exposure, place the
photograph in a box or sleeve.
• The damage will not be reversed but further
damage will be slowed.
Questions so far?
Tintypes/ Tintype Albums
• This is a tintype album
from c. 1870. It is falling
apart and some of the
tintypes are abraded.
{University of Arkansas Special Collections Department, Vernie L.
Bartlett Papers}
The album itself has informational
value, but may cause more damage to
the photograph. What course of action
might you take with this item?
{University of Arkansas Special Collections
Department, Vernie L. Bartlett Papers}
Stains, folds, fades…
{University of Arkansas Special
Collections Department, Vernie L.
Bartlett Papers}
Fading, tearing, writing
Severe fading
•This photo is from
the 1920s and
extraordinary wear
and tear from light
19teens – worries and cures
•What do you think is
going on with this
{University of Arkansas Special Collections
Department, Vernie L. Bartlett Papers}
1920s – worries and cures
•This one?
{University of Arkansas Special Collections
Department, Vernie L. Bartlett Papers}
Black and White photography, 1930s
• Many black and white
prints that have been
kept in ideal conditions
and they look great!
• How do we keep it that
1940s – worries and cures
• Black and white
photography became
wildly popular (and
much more affordable)
beginning in the 1930s
and it continued in the
{University of Arkansas Special Collections
Department, Vernie L. Bartlett Papers}
1960s – worries and cures
• Color photography
becomes more
common…but the quality
of the chemicals and
paper used varies
{University of Arkansas Special Collections
Department, Vernie L. Bartlett Papers}
1970s – worries and cures
• More and more types of
color photography
(various types of
backing, sizes, etc.)
• Some last better than
• Magnetic albums
{University of Arkansas Special Collections
Department, Vernie L. Bartlett Papers}
1980s Photos
• Problems and Cures
• Pass some around…
• Color photography is
cheaper and most
families have piles of
1990s Photos
•Problems and Cures
•Show and Tell
• Professional/
commercial printing
• More and more people
take more and more
2000s Photos -- Digital
•Now we have
photographs by the
gigabyte…what do we
do with them?
•Preservation Challenge!
•Acidic pages
Problems with albums
• This scan shows a large
album page. It has been
torn, many photos have
fallen out already. Some
have been pasted back in
and identified much
later. More importantly,
how do we attempt to
preserve this?
• {University of Arkansas Special Collections
Department, Vernie L. Bartlett Papers}
Magnetic Albums (and fading!)
• This is a scan of an example
of a dreaded magnetic
• Pictures in these albums
will either fall right off the
album page or be so
bonded to the page that
you will actually be better
off to leave them attached.
{University of Arkansas Special Collections
Department, Vernie L. Bartlett Papers}
What can you preserve?
•The hard decisions
•You cannot save everything
•Even with cooperative projects
•Priorities must be set
•Every item may not need to be
Felicia Thomas
[email protected]

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