Friday, April 8, 2011


After spending four days photographing, scanning and video taping all the priceless images and artifacts of the Irwin family and Y6 ranch, I came away with a sense of urgency to preserve my own family memories and images. So many of the priceless photos have suffered permanent water, emulsion and fading damage and must now undergo digital restoration which is costly and time consuming.

 Since that is part of my job and training, it isn't the end of the world and the images will be preserved. I thought of how many people don't have the time, skills or commitment to restore badly damaged family photographs and thought I would post some pointers, a guide for preserving your cherished family memories. With a little care, you can pass them down to many generations to come.
Badly damaged rare image of the cowgirls of the 101 Ranch

Make Them Last A Lifetime
Family photos and movies are priceless. Like memories, a photograph or movie is a moment frozen, taken back from the grasp of time. A collection of photos, home movies, documents, letters are the visual history of your family, your friends and your life. Before digital images we had film photographs and we thought they would last forever, but even the most modern prints are not designed to last more than a few decades. Black and wite photos are made up of light-sensitive silver salts known as silver halides and while they do last a bit longer, are still prone to emulsion, light and water damage. Color photographs and slides made up of dyes and plastics are more fragile and all photos will eventually succumb to the effects of a hostile environment as well as a host of natural enemies. Preserving photographs and home movies, organic and temporary by their very nature can be done by following a few simple guidelines.

What Can Damage Your Photographic Images?

• High Temperature and Relative Humidity
The emulsion layer of a photograph, the light sensitive component that actually captures the image, is made up of organic materials, including gelatin. This makes the emulsion susceptible to mold and fungi. Uninsulated basements or attics are the wrong place to store your family treasures. In the case of disaster, the basement is the first place that gets flooded, and the attic is bound to go up in smoke in the event of fire. Photos should be stored in a cool, dry place, ideally below 68ยบ and under 50% humidity.

• Ultraviolet Light
Before you hang that photo on the wall, make sure it is safe from the sun. Direct exposure to sunlight can cause your photographs to fade in just a few years. If you must display your photo where it receives direct sun, there are special filters and glass you can purchase to protect it. Another option is to make a copy of an irreplaceable image and display the copy.

• Wood and Paper Products
Many wood and paper products contain harmful acids, bleaches and other chemicals that can damage the emulsion of your photograph over time. If you are into scrapbooking, be highly selctive and careful. Use only "acid free" paper products. When shopping for archival products, make sure you read the product descriptions carefully because there is no accepted archival labeling standard.

 • Adhesives, Rubber and Metallic Objects
Don't buy easy to use sticky-back photo albums. If you are using them now, try to gently remove your photographs from the glued page. If you are unable to remove the photo without damaging it, it should be scanned or photographed to preserve the image. Most adhesives used in these products contain harmful chemicals such as PVC that will eventually destroy your photographs. Rubber bands have the same effect. Metallic objects such as paper clips can scratch the surface of your prints and negatives and it is important to take care at other objects stored in the same box as photo images.

Hope this helps preserve your priceless memories!

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