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Protecting and Storing Photographs

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Photographs are fragile and easily damaged. Fading, stains, and distortion are all signs of deterioration. Unfortunately, deterioration is often the result of the inherent instability of certain processes and materials such as cellulose acetate negatives, nitrate negatives, and color slides and prints.

 

Preparing Collections for Storage

 

Before selecting storage materials, you will want to evaluate your collection from several points of view. For the family collection, this may be as simple as sorting photographs on the dining room table.

- Are the photographs unique?
- Do negatives exist to make duplicates?
- Are the prints valuable as works of art or as historical documents?
- Are the photographs important to pass down through future generations?

These answers will help set priorities and budgets. Next, list the types of formats, sizes, and quantities of items in your collection so that you can select appropriate storage materials. Anticipate the use the collection will receive.

- Who will use the photographs?
- Will the photographs be frequently shown or used?
- Will the photographs stay in one location or be frequently transported?

Handle prints and negatives along the edges, preferably wearing white cotton gloves. Dirt, dust, and oils from your fingers can cause permanent damage. Remove photos and negatives from poor quality enclosures if possible. If prints are dry mounted or glued to old album pages and mats, place the entire page in a folder or sleeve.

 

Selecting Storage Materials

 

Storing your collection in appropriate enclosures protect against light, dust, handling, air pollutants, and rapid fluctuations in temperature and humidity. They must be made of materials that are strong, durable,
and chemically stable to provide long-term protection.

Photographs should be stored in an environment that is dark, cool, and dry. High humidity and temperatures will accelerate deterioration. Black and white photographs are affected primarily by humidity and contaminants from poor quality enclosures or air pollution. Color photographs are sensitive to
light, heat, and humidity. Light is such a threat to color prints that is best to have a second copy (kept in the dark) of any color prints that are displayed for long periods. Prolonged damp conditions (relative humidity over 65%) can lead to mold growth on photographs.

 
 
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