907 Montgomery Road Montgomery, IL 60538
Photographs are our lasting memories and to pass on as a record for future generations. However, we are so accustomed to them that we take them for granted. It has been over 168 years since the public introduction of photography. Prior to 1839 artists drawings and paintings were the only capture of people, places or things and they were only interpretations with even the most faithful representations influenced by the style, medium and mind of the artist. Then along came the invention of photography, and all that changed.
Time captured in a split second that will never replay the same again. Those recorded moments preserved for enjoyment far into the future require care in their handling and storage for future generations. Knowing how to care for these irreplaceable moments frozen in time is in direct relationship with their actual creation. Light is the number one enemy followed by chemical degrading and of course the perils of storms, flood or fire are among their demise.
Light, photo enemy #1
Prior to the advent of the digital age photographs were the results of the action of light to a specific treated surface. As light is the creator it is also the terminator even though the image was stabilized or considered fixed. All photographs are fading, the degree determined by the process used for its creation and how well it was controlled. Color photos fade faster than black and white.
It is unfortunate that the light required to view a photograph is the same light that bleaches out that same image it was used to create. Family heirlooms should be copied and the original stored for preservation. Avoid placing pictures outside of direct sunlight when displaying or hanging on walls.
Sunlight is one form of chemical degradation but certainly not the only one. Many factors contribute to the process that deteriorates an image. Improper processing can accelerate the fading and unfortunately, we have no knowledge that standards were followed correctly until the image is to far gone. Older photographs were not subject to tolerance standards as we have come to expect today and are more susceptible to deteriorating. A professional restoration expert can reprocess older prints to remove damaging chemicals and redevelop older prints but the key word is “Professional”.
Another source of chemical degradation is the paper (or on mounted pictures, the cardboard the print is mounted on) used in making prints. If the paper is too acidic, it may fall apart with time, disintegrating slowly from within. There are sprays available that can be used on the back of photos to slow this process.
Photos can also pick up deleterious chemicals from their environment, the air around them, other pictures, or the material they are stored in. To ensure long life, store your pictures in safe materials designed for archival storage. Never use those so-called magnetic photo album pages that are sticky -- that sticky surface is made of chemicals that will destroy your pictures.Other factors than can affect the chemical degradation of photographs are temperature and humidity. Like most chemical processes, those that damage your pictures are accelerated by heat and humidity. Excessively low heat or humidity can also be damaging however. All materials expand and contract with temperature changes, which can lead to cracking of the image surface. Rapid changes in temperature and humidity can be very destructive. Very low humidity can also cause curling. Store your photos in an area where the temperature is steady and avoid extremes such as would be found in an attic or basement. Properly storing materials will help prevent the effects of fluctuating temperature and humidity.
Protecting your memories
Recently a huge tornado leveled the town of Greensburg, Kansas and news footage showed survivors picking through the rubble to attempt to recover their irreplaceable family photographs. A sad sight unfortunately often duplicated by natural and man made disasters.
"A look back into the past is the responsibility of the present to guarantee the same privilege for the future!"
In this case, no precautions could have protected those family photographs but there are other forms of destruction that can be prevented. Corner bends, folds, finger smudging and notation on the back can ruin a photographs as well as a 155 mph wind. Storing photo’s on disk and in chemically inert plastic sleeves available for picture albums provide some form of security while still allowing for viewing. Cramming them in a drawer or envelope does not offer this simple protection.