Storing your photos
Following on from her advice on handling photos safely, our conservator, Seren Fisher, gives tips on storing your photographs properly….
Potential damage by poor storage
Irreversible damage is caused to your prints, negatives and slides by storing or displaying them in inappropriate materials, and exposing them to heat, light and humidity.
Typical forms of damage seen in our collections include:
- Fading – one of the obvious side effects of exposure to too much light
- Dye/pigment fading (colour prints and negatives)
- Flaking emulsion (upper layer containing image)
- Staining (off-set image on opposite page).
Distortions due to plastic coverings can also occur as they age causing irreversible damage to prints within. Plastics may have components or coatings that off-gas and weaken as they deteriorate.
Proper storage provides physical support and protection for fragile objects, acting as a barrier between a photograph and the potentially unstable environment. Making digital copies of your pictures gives you another option for keeping them safe but please remember keeping digital images brings its own risks. Also, care should always be taken to ensure that the process of copying does not damage the original.
Storage materials for photographs, negatives and slides should be to either International Organization for Standardization (ISO) or Photograph Activity Test (PAT) standard.
- Prints, negatives and all transparencies (slides) can be housed in polyester sleeves and stored in storage boxes, using photographic conservation paper or museum board as a support if necessary.
- Sleeves should not be completely sealed.
- Prints with delicate surfaces, such as flaking emulsion or lifting pigments should be stored in paper enclosures (the static nature of the polyester will lift off the emulsion and cause further damage)
- Items with loose surfaces can be housed in photo’ paper (Silversafe or pHoton) ‘4 flap’ fold papers.
Daylight and artificial light accelerate the aging of photographic prints and the damage is permanent. For those pictures you want to display I would advise making a copy of the original and exhibiting that instead, whilst keeping the original in a cool and dry (but not too dry!) place, ideally in a conservation grade box.
Repackaging your treasures should prolong the life of the originals but please be aware that some prints and transparencies are inherently unstable, in particular colour prints, with a shorter ‘shelf life’ than other products.
Avoid direct sunlight or artificial light as much as possible, as well as sources of heat (radiators or fireplaces) and humidity (bathrooms or kitchens). Exposure to light, heat and damp and extremes of all environmental factors also increases the deterioration of your treasures.
The best forms of packaging, particularly if you want to leaf through your prints as you did with an album, is to insert them into polyester pages, back to back.
Polyester is chemically inert which means it won’t react with the constituent parts of a photo’ and is transparent so you don’t need to take the pictures out to view them.
Generally, the only things we don’t advise polyester sleeves for are items with flaking surfaces (e.g. prints or negatives with flaking areas, chalk/pastel drawings), instead use 4-flap folders .
At Shropshire Archives we hold a small supply of the packaging materials for people to purchase, please see our price list for further details. We can’t post these out but you could order for collection when we re-open. If you have any questions, Seren is happy to advise. Please don’t hesitate to contact us.