Photographic Preservation

on November 20, 2016

There is nothing more distressing than coming across historic images that have been badly damaged by poor storage and handling.

The papers and emulsions that made up the bulk of photographic records of last century were sturdy enough things to start with but when people failed to take care of them they frequently did not survive the lives of their subjects.

The autochrome on the top of the post is an example -the original plate was made with multi-coloured grains of starch that were dyed dufferent colours and then exposed through a tri-colour filter pack to yield some of the first colours shots. Unfortunately starch is ideal for the growth of mould if there is a damp and warm atmosphere. And it is nearly impossible to remove it without losing the image.

It's not just a matter for the antiques either - you can find paper prints from just a few decades ago that have been left out in the sun, or marked with stains and careless handling in every family photo shoebox - frequently they contain real information that you want but the condition has beteriorated past all saving. And the notorious sticky-sheet albiums of the 1970's and 1980's proved no better.

I will say that the manufacturers of the materials did not help in the mid part of the century. The Kodachrome slides stayed very well, and we can all be grateful for the fastness of the colour of both the original Kodachrome A and the improved Kodachrome II. But the Kodacolor films and particularly the Kodacolor prints avaiable in the 50's contained dyes that have proved so fugitive as to defy even the best restorative programs on the Epson scanner or the computer programs.

Really, when you see the sorts of problems that occur for the dedicated historian or just the family picture collector, you really do have to thank your lucky stars that we are shooting digital these days. We just don't have these sort of problems.