PRESERVATION OFFICE NEWS
The holiday season, is here! This year, I'm giving my sister a
special gift. This, mind you, is my only sister the one who said,
"When I grow up, I'm going to get married and have puppies!"
My sister is not married yet, so she is not going to get a puppy despite the
fact that Pee Wee Herman says a puppy's like the coolest gift you can
give! No, she's going to get something I've always wanted to give her. A
one-way trip to Jupiter (the planet). Just joking.
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This year, she'll be running around, as always, snapping photos of older
brothers eating the wings off angel cookies so they can't fly. She'll snap
as many photos as there will be mutilated angel cookies. Then, she'll
have the photos developed, and my mother will reminisce as she places
them in the family album. "HarEriAndrew," it's easier than
remembering which son is which, besides they all look alike "that one
was always weird." There will be a trip down memory lane', skipping
from photograph to photograph, comparing this person's looks in that
photo with those of another person, whose name only my mother can
remember, from fading photos dated before I was born. I am sure this
happens in every family.
The family album is replacing names and events scrawled in the family
Bible as the record of each family history. The history of the photos in
the family album, however, may be shorter than your own life's history.
That's right. It's a sinister plot launched from Jupiter. First, they steal
your soul in a photograph. Then, they lose it in a slow fade, to age spots,
or tarnish, maybe. I once saw a photo of my sister in which her rosy
cheeks had turned green. "She's a fish!" my little brother cried.
What can you do to keep your family photos healthy? A sick photo is
like a child that grew up eating only angel cookies and never brushed his
teeth. A lot of good, short articles have been written on hygiene for
photographs. We keep copies of then, including a small brochure by
Stanford University's Preservation Advisory Group and a 1 1/2 page
article by Gary Saretzky, in the Preservation Office. These articles cover
just about everything. So, if I miss something you want to know, ask me.
I'll find the answer.
For now some basics, just as reminders. Photographs and negatives are
different. They have different storage requirements. Negatives,
especially color negatives, require a cooler, drier climate than
photographs. I throw out the glassine (i.e., wax-paper-like) envelopes
my negatives usually come in and put them in paper envelopes. Glassine
Envelopes trap in humidity. Each negative is separated from every other
Negative by a sheet of "acid free" paper to prevent sticking. [Remember
that 100% cotton rag typing paper is often acid free. Acids in most paper
would eventually destroy negatives.] The envelopes go in a small closed
box in the refrigerator. This slows the aging process. I leave the
negatives in the box for a day of re-acclimatizing if they have to come
out for any reason. Negatives are the only backup my photos have. The
plot from Jupiter has already stolen my mind; it's not going to-get my
pictorial memories too.
Similarly, photographs printed on paper and those printed on
"plastic" (i.e., resin-coated paper) are different, and have different life
spans. -Resin-coated papers contain plasticizers and other
"contaminants" that will eventually ruin the photo. When a photo has
special meaning for'me, I have a duplicate made on (fiber-based) paper -
the kind that isn't glossy on the back. I also try to use black and white
film for special events. I'll use B&W for my sister's wedding, and her
first puppy, too. Color films and photographs, while vivid, just aren't
permanent yet. Colors fade in both light and dark, at different rates for
Photo albums, as well as mounting and marking techniques, are also
- problematic. Albums with black paper or self-stick adhesive are almost
always acidic. (Part of the Jupiter plot!) Clear plastics, unless sold as .
"Mylar@" or "polyester" (NOT "vinyl" or "pvc"), can also cause damage.
. 'Rubber cement is certain to chemically bur photos over time. Other
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glues may make remounting impossible. Marks on the back of photos may
cause damage. Pencil marks cause indentations. Pen marks, which may
be acidic, also migrate through to the photograph over time.
The Light Impressions, Inc. catalog (in the Preservation Office) includes
archival photo-preservation supplies including albums and mounts. If
you're like me, you can't afford the best treatment for everything. Your
wedding picture deserves better treatment than your puppy's picture.
With fiber-based duplicates of special photos, I can mount a resin-coated
copy in a lousy album, even write on the back. Its twin, the fiber-based
copy, gets tucked inside a once-folded sheet of "acid free" paper and
placed inside an envelope. Identification is written on the envelope
which is then tucked away in a dark, dry place for safe keeping away
from the Jupiter mob.
My sister says she can't afford to make duplicates of or to buy acid-free
supplies for all the special pictures. (Every picture my sister takes is
special!) In this case, the negatives are even more important. These, at
least, should get acid-free paper if not also boxed refrigeration.
Preservation on a shoestring is often a tightrope balancing act. It requires
tough collection development or family album planning decisions. My
sister has to learn that 435 photos of Spot, should they be preserved, will
only convince anthropologists of the future that she should have been
sent to Jupiter. .
The suggestions I've mentioned above are by no means standard
preservation practices, but they do not differ in concept. They down-scale
costs from that of a university library's budget, and make some means of
preservation affordable to the individual. Now, what else places your
photographs at risk? The greatest risk co-factors are relative humidity,
temperature and light. As you might imagine, Florida (which is closely
related to Jupiter) is the wrong place to raise a family of photos.
High relative humidity (RH) does the most damage to photographs. It
supports mold growth, and shrinkage and expansion that will eventually
destroy the photo. Ideally, RH should be no more than 40%, far below
Florida's average RH. You can reduce the effects of high RH on photos by
bufferingg" them within (acid free) paper, envelopes and boxes which
will absorb most moisture before it gets to the photo. Air conditioning,
which pulls some moisture from the air, is also beneficial.
Hot temperature is responsible for almost as much damage. It too
promotes shrinkage and expansion, as well as chemical reactions that
cause embrittlement. Ideally, temperatures should be no more than 600F.
This means the unprotected photo can not even breathe a sigh of relief at
night in Florida most of the year. Air conditioning is a photograph's best
friend! But keeping photos in a cooler, drier place than a bookshelf is
also friendly action. A drawer with lots of cotton clothing or sheeting is
Light in any amount is also harmful. Light causes fading, especially of
color photos and negatives. Some colors even fade in the dark. The
Jupiter mob was awfully bright devising light to steal pictorial
memories. Ideally, photos should never see the Light; but, neither can
they be seen in the dark.,On second thought, perhaps I should send my
sister to Jupiter this holiday season. At least, she would give them some
of their own medicine, steal the collective soul of the Jupiter mob and cast
it out into the sun. By the way, have you noticed that "SINISTER" is
"sister" with the word "in" inside?