- How can I preserve my family photographs for my grandchildren?
- I have a collection of film negatives. Is it a good idea to store them in my refrigerator?
- I have some glass plate negatives. What is the best way to care for them?
- I have an album with photographs that have been pasted onto the pages. Is there a safe way to remove the photos from the pages?
Place your photographs in either plastic or paper enclosures that are free of sulfur, acids, and peroxides. Preservation quality paper enclosures can be found in both buffered (pH 7.5-9.5) and unbuffered stock; buffered enclosures are preferable for deteriorated prints on poor-quality mounts. Stable plastic enclosures made of uncoated polyester film (Dupont Mylar Type D or ICI Melinex 516), uncoated cellulose triacetate, polyethylene, or polypropylene can also be used. All materials used for storing photographic collections should pass the PAT (Photographic Activity Test) and will be marked as such by suppliers of high quality photographic enclosures.
Store photographs in a closet or air-conditioned room — not the attic or basement — at 68° F and 30-40% relative humidity (HR). Higher humidity levels speed up deterioration; very low humidity may cause prints to crack, peel or curl. If relative humidity cannot be controlled consistently below 80%, plastic enclosures should not be used, because photographs may stick to the surface of plastic.
Avoid exposing photographic materials to anything containing sulfur dioxide, fresh paint fumes, plywood, cardboard, or fumes from cleaning supplies. Also avoid acidic paper envelopes and sleeves, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, rubber bands, paper clips, and poor-quality adhesives such as pressure-sensitive tapes and rubber cement. Cheap, readily available “drugstore type” photo albums, or albums with sticky adhesive pages, should not be utilized; instead, use photo corners to mount photographs. For guidance on finding suitable storage materials, see the FAQ on archival suppliers.
For more information, consult the Library of Congress publication Caring for Your Photographic Collections.
Photographic materials should be kept in proper environmental conditions. While, in general, lower temperatures will always be better for photographic materials, relative humidity is the single most important factor in preserving most items of this type. Conditions around 68° F and 30-40% relative humidity are appropriate and the easiest to maintain in enclosed areas, such as an interior closet or an air-conditioned room. High temperatures and high relative humidity levels (above 60%) will accelerate deterioration, as can fluctuations in temperature or humidity; this makes some spaces, such as attics or basements, inappropriate for storing photographic materials.
For more information, refer to the Library of Congress publication Caring for Your Photographic Collections.
Appropriate environmental and storage conditions are key to the longevity of glass plate negatives. Maintain relative humidity between 30% and 40% and temperature between 65° and 70° Fahrenheit. Housing materials and shelving must be strong enough to bear the weight of the glass plate negatives. Boxes should be clearly labeled “fragile/glass” and “heavy.”
For more information, see the Library of Congress publication Caring for Your Photographic Collections, Preservation of 19th-Century Negatives in the National Archives by Constance McCabe in the Journal of the Americal Institute for Conservation 30 (1991)no. 1, and the Conserve-O-Gram Caring for photographs: special formats [PDF: 699 KB / 4 p.] (National Park Service).
I have an album with photographs that have been pasted onto the pages. Is there a safe way to remove the photos from the pages?
It can be very difficult to remove photos that are adhered to pages. If not done by an experienced professional, the potential to incur irreversible damage is high. The American Institute for Conservation (AIC) provides a free conservator referral service where you may select the type of conservation service you need, identify your geographical area, and receive a list of local conservators. For more information about the care and storage of your photographic collections, refer to the Library of Congress publications Caring for Your Photographic Collections and Care, Handling, and Storage of Photographs. Other useful resources include Preserving Photographs from the National Archives and Record Administration and Care of Photographs from the Northeast Document Conservation Center.