The problem is, most of them aren't really all that safe. Photographs and other media – including negatives – naturally deteriorate over time, especially when stored improperly. Humidity, dust, temperature, pollutants . . . even fresh paint fumes can cause damage such as staining, cracking, flaking or fading, and while some damage can be reversed by a professional conservator, other problems, such as that caused by prolonged exposure to sunlight, can be cumulative and irreversible.
But there is good news . . . there are steps you can take to greatly prevent deterioration of your originals, as well as to utilize state-of-the-art methods to ensure that your family's heritage is safe from damage or disaster and is preserved for future generations to enjoy.
Photographs are some of the most treasured family heirlooms. Family collections often contain a wealth of images capturing everyday life, significant events, and special memories. . . . Because photographs are made from a variety of sensitive materials, they are easily damaged and may not survive to pass on to future generations if improperly stored, displayed, and handled.
The Cornell University Library, Department of Preservation and Conservation offers this free pdf download of their excellent brochure entitled "Preserving Your Family Photographs." It provides valuable information about proper care, handling and storage of original negatives and photographs, including advice and resources for conservation-friendly materials for albums, framing, matting, etc.
Some of their expert advice includes:
- Avoid touching the emulsion of a photograph; hold a photograph by its edges and from underneath, using two hands if necessary
- Store photographs in a place where the temperature and relative humidity can be controlled year-round. Storage conditions of 68°F and 30-50% relative humidity are recommended.
- An internal closet (like a hall or bedroom closet) or room surrounded by other living space is far better than storing in attics or basements that are prone to get too hot and/or damp.
- Avoid displaying photographs in direct sunlight and limit all other types of light exposure.
- Folders, envelopes, sleeves, and boxes provide protective layers which mitigate changes in the environment, limit light and dust, and assist with safe handling.
- Photo Negatives benefit from the same type of care
- Acceptable plastics for storage of photographs are uncoated polyester (often seen by the trade name Mylar-D), polypropylene, and polyethylene. Avoid PVC.
If your photos are exceptionally old and in need of care, it might be time to consider contacting a professional conservator.
Scan Photos to Digital
Scanning photographs is a popular way to provide greater access to the images and share them widely with family and friends.
In addition to preserving your originals, it is wise to also turn to the amazing digital imaging technology available to affordably duplicate, store and share your heirlooms in fresh, exciting and long-lasting ways.
While you may be familiar with scanning photos, slides and negatives, did you know that films and video tapes can be converted and saved on 100-year archival DVDs or digital file backups, too? Digital technology also affords us the opportunity to restore media that may have already suffered degeneration and damage through the years, bringing them back to life once again, perhaps even as never seen before.
And what if you've already spent countless hours creating archival-quality scrapbooks? Cutting-edge digitizing can create hi-resolution scans of your entire scrapbook pages – no disassembly required!