2. Basic Photo Preservation

In our last article, we talked about preserving the information about the photos, that’s half the battle. Now lets talk about storing these irreplaceable originals. The black and white photographic print is a pretty durable thing! It can take a lot of abuse and still look ok. Color prints and slides are fussier and some have destruction built in. Here are some hints on how to keep photo materials from fading away to nothing. Of course, this is assuming they are protected from the obvious, roof leaks, getting stepped on, thrown away with a bunch of old papers, chewed on by the family pet…

There are several things that are very hard on photos and most other art on paper or fabric. Sunlight, heat, moisture, acid (from paper and cardboard products), pollutants and even ozone, these are the enemies of photographs.

Direct sunlight is public enemy #1, the UV in sunlight is a sure fire way to cause images to fade. This includes both historic materials and the latest archival inkjet prints.

Next on the list, high moisture levels, as mold can and will thrive on some photo materials, especially color slides. Moisture also helps all sorts of nasty chemical reactions including encouraging the acids in paper products to attack the image.

Heat can also damage these materials, never store them in an attic, over a heater or in a hot car in the sun. Heat will also accelerate the effects of the other things.

Cardboard boxes (old shoe boxes, etc.) are far from acid free and release this damaging substance into your family photos, over time, slowly destroying them. The same goes with envelopes and other standard paper products. Those “magnetic album pages” that were very popular in the 1970’s and 80’s are awful! They had diagonal stripes of a semi-sticky material and clear plastic covers. Here’s a place where a bit of heat can help you remove prints from them. A hair dryer works well for this, as the prints tend to really stick to the backing.

Most pollutants found in big cities aren’t a problem on the coast, but there’s one thing many homes have that we just don’t think of as a hazard. That’s air purifiers that produce ozone. Most art on paper or fabric along with many dyes and pigments, are affected by ozone and it is to be avoided!

There are many relatively inexpensive acid free archival storage materials available. One easy place to find them is on Amazon.com, where a search for “archival storage boxes” will bring up plenty of sizes and a large range of prices, starting around $13 for 15” x 13” x 3.9” boxes. Another search, “archival photo sleeves” will get the rest of what you need. 8” x 10” sleeves range from opaque glassine envelopes for as little as $.05 each, to rigid archival, crystal clear sleeves at $1.00 each.
Another good place to get this type of supply is Dick Blick Art Supplies, where boxes ranging from 9x12x2 for $10.49 through 22x30x2 for $24.35 dickblick.com

Basically, it boils down to keeping your photos away from sunlight, reasonably cool and dry and storing them away from harmful materials. Here on the coast, moisture is possibly the hardest thing to control. Basements are bad, outside walls near the floor tend also to be very damp unless you have a dehumidifier running all the time.

Next week, I’ll cover digitizing your family and historic photos.


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