Bathing Beauty. Silver gelatin print by H. H. Morris. Galveston, Texas
about 1920. Rosenberg Library [G-9121, FLDR 1]
6. Light-especially daylight and fluorescent lightcauses
prints to fade. For this reason, exhibiting
prints will necessarily be bad for the image. Display
prints where they will receive only moderate amounts
of light. You might want to exhibit copyprints instead,
and never leave original prints up for more
than a few months. Matt board used in framing
should be acid free, and frames should preferably be
aluminum. Do not frame a print with its surface in
direct contact with glass, as there is a good chance
that the print and the glass will become stuck together
and impossible to separate. Never place prints where
they will be subjected to temperature extremes or
high amounts of moisture.
Acid-free paper, photo corners, albums and storage
boxes as well as many other supplies suitable for
the archival storage, display, and mounting of photographs,
are available from Light Impressions, Incorporated;
P. 0. Box 940; Rochester, New York
7. The information you know about your photographs
may be lost if it is not written down. You can make
notes on the page of an album next to the print. Writing
on the back of prints presents a number of potential
problems. One solution is to write a small identification
number on the back of the print, keeping the
information about the print on a card with the same
number. Always write very lightly with a number 2
pencil so that the pencil impression does not go
through the surface of the print. Never use ink, even
on album pages; the ink may accidentally come in
contact with a print.
8. Never try to restore an original print yourself unless
you are willing to live with the likelihood that the
image will be ruined. Even professional conservators
realize they are taking a risk in attempting to restore a
photograph-something as simple as washing a print
in water can destroy it. Knowledge of modern dark
room techniques does not qualify one to know how to
work with old prints, as the photographic processes
have changed. Be suspicious of amateur photographers
who offer to "fix up" an image in the darkroom.
9. Although trained conservators can do little to restore
an image, some images can be improved; tightly
curled prints can be flattened and daguerreotypes can
have the tarnish removed. Any treatment of artifacts
is risky and often expensive. If you have a print that
you feel is valuable enough to warrant such attention,
you may wish to contact a professional conservator.
Two photographic processes deserve special mention,
nitrate film and color photographs.
Nitrate films were introduced to the mass market in 1888
by George Eastman in his popular Kodak camera. The
film continued to be widely used until around 1940. This
film is made of a plastic, nitrocellulose, that is inherently
unstable. Over time it decomposes and can eventually
catch on fire spontaneously at very low temperatures (80
to 90 degrees Farenheit-certainly lower than the temperature
of many attics in the summer). Because of the
hazard of this film, it is important that you be aware of
its presence in your home or collection.
As well, nitrate film emits corrosive gases that attack
prints and negatives that are otherwise stable. Because
of these two reasons, nitrate film should be separated
from the rest of your photographs and treated with special
When nitrate film is in relatively good condition, it is not
easy to distinguish from safety film. Safety film almost
always is marked on the edge of the film, and some nitrate
film is marked as well. If you have black and white
negatives that were not made in the last twenty years and
are not marked "safety," you should be suspicious that
the film is potentially dangerous. You should make a
point to look for negatives that are yellowed, brittle, or
give off an acrid smell. Negatives that are sticky or have
turned to dust are seriously deteriorated and should be
dealt with immediately as they pose a serious fire hazard.
Fortunately, when there has been little deterioration, nitrate
film does not pose an immediate threat of fire.
However, these negatives should be considered a priority
for copying and safe preservation. For additional information
on nitrate film, see the reading list below for
books that cover this topic specifically.
Color photographs are very fragile as the dyes which
form the image are very unstable and apt to fade. Color
photographs should be kept as cool and dry as possible,
and special care should be taken that they are not left on
display for long. Because most of the photographs made
today are color and subject to fading, we would encourage
you to occasionally shoot a roll of black and white
film to document the world in which you live.
Finally, never throw old photographs away; even if you
don't know anything about the image it may be of value
to someone else. Contact a local history center or library;
they can guide you in appraising the value of your
images. Remember, you may be saving the last image of
somebody's mother. If you would like more information
on the care and significance of old photographs, you may
like one or more of the following:
The Collection, Use, and Care of Historical Photographs,
by Robert A. Weinstein and Larry Booth.
Nashville: American Association for State and Local
Preservation of Photographs, Eastman Kodak Company.
Rochester, New York: Eastman Kodak, 1979.
The History of Photography, by Beaumont Newhall.
New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1983. 5th
The Life of a Photograph: Archival Processing, Matting,
Framing, and Storage, by Laurence E. Keefe, Jr. and
Dennis Inch. Boston and London: Focal Press, 1984.
Richard Pearce-Moses is Coordinator for the Historic
Photography Project of the Texas Historical Foundation
and formerly worked at the Harry Ransom Research
Center, Curator's Office, The University of Texas at
Baptising in creek near Hamilton, Texas. Modem print from the original nitrate negative of C. J. Bouldin, 1907. Collection of MaxineHayens.
Texas Historical Foundation. Texas Heritage, Fall 1984. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45447/. Accessed July 26, 2014.