The Why & The How
The basic goals of preserving older photographs are:
· Goal I: Create beautiful original or restored digital images.
· Goal II: Preserve original images and keepsakes in the best way possible.
I have a loved one with a room dedicated to family keepsakes, photo albums, papers and documents. I don’t mean a display room, I mean a large storage room. And that room is packed. We haven’t mentioned the garage yet. I might tease them about episodes of Hoarders, but the real source of help will be in step-by-step digitization, sharing, and the best archival storage possible. Right now these precious things aren’t benefiting anyone. Some photographs are in albums, some are in boxes. Some photographs are from grandparents and great-grandparents, Some were taken a couple years ago. Some papers are in boxes, others are stacked in the open. Keepsakes and mementos are in various states of found condition and storage. The storage time-clock is ticking, because these papers and materials are deteriorating.
Staying off deterioration of original photographs and keepsakes is critical for the best longevity. How you handle and store these things will determine just how long the keepsakes last.
Think Like a Museum Curator
If something is important, treat it accordingly. Exposure to temperature, moisture, light, critters, acids and bases make a big difference.
Hot, Cold, Wet, Dry
Do your best to store photographs and items in cool/room-temperature places with as little fluctuation in temperature and moisture as possible. Most things are best kept on the dryer side, but you will need to take your climate into consideration. If you live in more humid areas, storage spaces with cedar help with moisture and bug control. If you live in very dry climates, you will need to be careful to keep a good moisture balance that your item(s) need. Keep everything in place out of possible flood damage and away from heat sources in your home. Keep away from in front of air vents, too.
Acids and Bases
All items have a PH balance that keeps colors and materials at their best. Remember that fingertips have natural oils and acids. While you may not notice now or a couple years from now any effect that your fingers make, after many years the damage is irreversible. That’s why you see museum curators use white cotton gloves. This is not for the sake of being fancy, believe me. You can order white cotton gloves online very easily. If you want to go to the store, CVS, WalMart, and Target are among many that carry them. I'd look in the dermatological section first. Now if you don’t want to get that serious and wear gloves, that’s understandable. There are still a few basics to preservation that anyone can do.
When you handle your keepsakes, at least make sure you work on a clean dry surface free of any dirt or dust. On the other hand, do not use strong cleaners on your work surface because they leave an acid residue. Use mild soaps and detergents and thoroughly dry your work area. Remove all liquids and mishaps-waiting-to-happen and keep them far away, too. Store your photographs and keepsakes indoors, away from windows and off of floors where possible.
One item at a time, one small box at a time. Start it. Finish it, and put it away. This doesn’t require an instant herculean effort; it is more like the Grand Canyon one drop of water at a time. Remember you are not alone, either! There are many others working on similar projects. If you have questions for particular items, ask a professional. Find online resources, professional photograph and other restoration companies & individuals, find resources at your library, or ask around your community.
Next Post: Going Digital With Old Photographs
Future posts will include how to convert old photographs into digital images, taking pictures of keepsakes, how to best store photographs and keepsakes, sharing your digital images, stories & heritage, and a few other things as they come up.
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Jennifer Apffel is a photographer with over a decade of experience in portrait, event, and product photography. She also does freelance graphic design and fine art. For more check out jenniferapffel.com, albaphotography.net, or look for her on fineartamerica.com.