Historical Importance of Preserving Photographs

Preserving and storing photographs is important for historical research. Photographs are of immense value to scholars in many fields, not only for historians, as a visible record of many aspects of life throughout the centuries, they also have great sentimental value for families and individuals throughout their own lives.

The older they are the more vulnerable to damage photos become. Printed on paper and given a coating of chemicals they are sensitive to light, heat and even to touch.

Paper can become brittle and yellow if exposed to too much light. Handled too often photographs can become creased, torn or scratched and they are also vulnerable to the grease and oils from fingers, which can leave marks and attract dust and dirt.

Rusting staples or paper clips, adhesive from mounting materials and even the chemicals in some inks can add to the damage.

Paper, inks and photographic surfaces are also all attractive food sources for insects and pests as well as good surfaces on which moulds can grow.

Protecting, Preserving and Storing Photographs

However, there are ways of protecting, preserving and storing them. Ideally, old photographs should be handled only at their edges, and preferably by hands protected by surgical or cotton gloves.

It is generally advised not to store photographic archives in either attics or basements, where they could be exposed to fluctuating temperatures and damp.

For any organisation that has a large and important photographic archive storage in a self-store facility can be an affordable and safe way to ensure they are preserved for future generations. Such facilities offer a range of sizes of storage area and have fairly stable temperatures and humidity.

Before putting photographs into archive storage there are a number of steps that can be taken to help make sure they do not deteriorate.

The first step is to dust them with a soft cloth to get rid of any finger prints or other marks. Another method is to brush them with a large, soft brush. Remove any glue, tape, staples, rubber bands and paper clips.

To prevent them from sticking together they should be separated with sheets of acid free tissue paper. If they are to be put into albums, the albums should be made of materials that are free from acid or lignin, both of which can stain and yellow prints. Album pages should have page protectors free from PVC which can also damage prints over time. Photos should be fixed in place with photo corners, not with any form of adhesive.

It is also possible to buy metal boxes or cardboard boxes labelled “acid free” for photo storage, but again, prints should be separated either by acid-free tissue paper or non-PVC storage sleeves.

Each photo should be clearly labelled on the reverse using a permanent marker, never a ballpoint pen, which can damage the surface.

Paper can become brittle and yellow if exposed to too much light

Paper can become brittle and yellow if exposed to too much light

Digital Archiving

It may also be a good idea to scan the photographs so that a digital version is saved onto a CD or online archive. This will mean that the pictures can be accessible without risking further damage to original prints, although there may be occasions when it is necessary to examine the originals rather than the copies.

Once the photographs have been cleaned and protected as described they can be organised into archiving boxes or filing systems much like any other form of paper archive. Whatever the container it is a good idea to ensure that the outsides are clearly labelled with the contents and a complete list is made of the entire archive.

Keeping a collection in a self-store unit is not only affordable, the security measures and insurance cover available in these facilities mean that there is less likelihood of any loss or damage to an irreplaceable collection.

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