|Preserving the Past|
Whether it is paintings on cave walls or writings chiseled in stone, mankind has been recording history since the beginning of time. The ability to document history photographically is a more recent invention, however, beginning with the daguerreotype in 1838. Photographs provide a very important visual connection to our ancestors. Shared family physical characteristics, hairstyles, clothing styles, family traditions, special events and more provide a graphic portrayal of the lives of our ancestors, but if we do not properly care for our photographs, some of our history will fade away right along with those precious images.
Causes a Photo to Deteriorate?
Environmental factors such as temperature, humidity and sunlight affect photographs more than any other factor. Cyclic conditions (high heat and humidity followed by cold, dry weather such as you would find in an attic or basement) are especially bad for photos and may cause cracking and separation of the emulsion (image) from the support (paper base of the photo). Dirt, dust and oil are also big culprits of photographic deterioration.
Avoid When Storing & Handling Photos
- Dirt, dust, and oils from
you hands can cause permanent damage. You should handle prints and negatives
along the edges, preferably while wearing white cotton gloves.
- The worst places to store
your photographs is in an un-insulated attic or basement. Constant high
temperatures and humidity in the summer and low temperatures and humidity in
the winter can cause your photographs to become brittle and crack. In severe
cases, it may cause separation of the emulsion (image) from the support
(paper base) of the photo. Dampness can cause photographs to stick together.
Insects and rodents, commonly found in basements, also like to feed on
photos. The best conditions for storing photographs are in a location with a
consistent temperature from 65°F-70°F with a relative humidity of about
50%. These aren't always possible in a home environment, however, so if your
photographs are especially important to you, you may want to consider
storing them in a safe deposit box at your bank where the conditions are
- Do not store your
negatives in the same place as your photographs. If something happens to
your photos or albums, your negatives will still be available to reprint
your treasured family heirloom.
- Do not write on the back
of your photos with standard ball-point or felt-tip ink pens. Unless it is
marked specifically for use on photos, most ink contains acids which will
eat away at and stain your photos over time. If you must mark a photo and
don't have an acid-free photo marking pen available, then write lightly with
a soft lead pencil on the back of the image.
- Do not use rubber bands
or paper clips to hold photos together. Rubber bands contain sulfur which
can cause your photo to deteriorate. Paper clips can scratch the surface of
your photos or negatives. Clippings should be photocopied onto alkaline
- Do not use paper clips to
hold photos together or in albums. They can scratch the surface of your
photos or negatives.
- Do not display important
photos in your home. The glass can stick to the emulsion over time. Sunlight
will cause your photo to fade. If you want to display a precious photo, then
have a copy made and display the copy!
- Do not use glues
(especially rubber cement) or pressure
sensitive tapes to mend photographs or hold them in albums. Most glues
contain substances such as sulfur and acids which will cause your photos to
deteriorate. Look for special photo-safe glues and tapes in the archival
section of your favorite photo or craft store.
- Avoid exposing photographic materials to anything containing sulfur
dioxide, fresh paint fumes, plywood, cardboard, and fumes from cleaning
- Water and fire can ruin your photos. Keep pictures away from fireplaces,
heaters, dryers etc. Avoid water damage by storing photos on high shelves
well away from water pipes and in locations not prone to flooding or leaks
(don't store in the basement or in a closet which backs on a shower, tub or
- Avoid cheap drugstore-type photo albums and paper and plastic storage products that aren't specifically made for storing photos. Regular envelopes, ziplog bags and other things commonly used for photo storage aren't always safe for your photos. Use only lignin free, acid free, un
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Images © 2000 Kimberly Powell. All Rights Reserved.