Texas Heritage, Fall 1984

Preserving Our
Photographic Past
by Richard Pearce-Moses

Street scene, Courthouse Square. Modem print from the original nitrate negative of C. J. Bouldin. Hamilton, Texas between 1915 and 1920.

Photographs will fade in poor storage conditions. They
can be torn in mishandling. They get dirty. Once damage
of these sorts have been done to a photograph, there is
usually little that can be done to restore it to its original
condition. The biggest part of photographic preservation
is prevention, and surprisingly, many of the products
designed for storing photographs are very bad for the
photographic image.
Here are some basic guidelines for storing, exhibiting,
and displaying your photographs that will minimize
damage. These guidelines should not be considered as
ideals for preservation. They have been written with the
idea that they will prevent very bad materials from being
used inadvertently. Instead, these guidelines suggest the
use of materials which, while not necessarily perfect, we
hope are a happy compromise between conservation
ideals, pocket books, and availability of materials. Because
these guidelines are general, they in no way replace
the advice of a trained photographic conservator,
and when you run into tricky questions, we encourage
you to seek their advice. There is also a reading list at the
end of this article for more information.

1. Make copyprints of valuable photographs. Not only
does making a copy of a photograph save the information
contained in the original, it is frequently possible
to enhance the original image so that it is much
more clear in the copyprint.
2. Fingerprints are one of the most common sources of
deterioration. Once acidic skin oils eat into the emulsion
of a print or negative, the fingerprint is there to
stay. Fortunately, fingerprints are one of the easiest
things to prevent: wear inexpensive cotton gloves to
protect the photograph. These gloves are available
from drug and camera stores.
3. One of the most important things to do to preserve
photographs is to see that they are stored safely. Almost
every storage container easily found in the
home contains chemicals bad for photographs. One
apparent but very poor storage container is the package
photographic materials are sold in-film and
paper boxes. However, wrapping the prints and negatives
with acid free paper will do a lot to protect the
images from poor storage containers.

4. Almost all commercially available photo albums are
very bad for photos. Black photo album paper is very
high in acids, which causes the image to fade and the
paper support to become brittle. "Magnetic" photo
album pages have a sticky substance that gets on the
prints and cannot be removed; they usually have very
acidic pages.
5. Mounting your photographs in an album or in frames
presents its own problems, as almost all adhesivesrubber
cement, scotch tape, and the like-contain
chemicals that cause photographs to fade. Photo-corners
are not suitable for prints whict have become
brittle, Staples and Paper clips are also bad as they
damage the paper support of the photograph. Dry
mounting of photographs is questionable as it subjects
prints to high temperatures and may permanently
attach a print to a mount that is later discovered
to be of very poor quality. Photo-corners present
what is probably the best compromise between archival
standards and convenience, as they touch only a
small portion of the image and do not permanently
adhere the print to a surface that may be bad for the
photograph.

8

Texas Historical Foundation. Texas Heritage, Fall 1984. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45447/. Accessed July 10, 2014.