You can keep your Instagram and Hipstamatic; when it comes to shots with character, nothing beats the sepia hues of a vintage photograph. But how do you store them to make sure your precious memories stay safe and sound forever? You can’t stick them onto social media or back them up on an external hard drive. As a technology-savvy generation we’re more than accustomed to digital photographs and virtual storage systems. The practical side of photo preservation is something we’ve definitely lost touch with.
Here are some quick tips and tricks to help you stop your favorite shots from getting lost in the annals of time.
The big baddies
If you’re trying to keep your old photos safe there are three nasties you need to stay clear of; heat, humidity and light. These are the worst enemies of your photographs. Moderation is the key to preserving antique images. Keep your pictures in a sealed box in a safe environment that’s not too hot, cold, damp and too. As a rule of thumb, attics, garages and basements are best avoided as these places are all subject to extreme variables of temperature and moisture. Restoring damaged antique photographs is tricky and costs a small fortune. Show your shots some love and you can enjoy looking at them for a lifetime.
You need to avoid touching your photos as much as possible. The naturally occurring oils on your skin can cause smudges in the short-term. The dirt that’s present on even the cleanest of paws can lead to the growth of damaging mould spores. Wearing a pair of light cotton gloves is advisable, especially when handling very old prints.
You have several options when it comes to safe storage. Stock up on plastic sleeves that are free from PVC – you’ll find them at your photographic supplies store. Alternatively look for PVC-free sandwich bags for an inexpensive solution. If you have a large number of shots to pile up, it’s also a good idea to place a sheet of cotton-bond acid-free paper between each layer.
A Word on Albums
You need to steer clear of ‘magnetic’ photo albums. These are in fact made from acidic card with an adhesive layer and plastic covering. Instead, look for ones with acid-free paper – to prevent staining and deterioration. Only use adhesive-free pages, the glue in magnetic albums is also acidic. If you permanently attach your pictures to the page you’ll lose any information that’s written on the back of the image if you try to move it. You’re also likely to tear your pictures if you try to remove them. Finally, typical plastic covers contain polyvinyl chloride; a chemical which causes your photographs to crease and the colours to fade.
Catalogue your Collection
One of the first steps to preserving your photos for posterity is to identify and correctly reference them. You can do this by writing the details on the reverse with an appropriate pen. Never use a ballpoint pen. The ink will more than likely bleed onto other surfaces and won’t be absorbed by the photographic paper. What’s more, if you apply too much pressure you’ll cause permanent indentations in the image and risk breaking the seal on its protective coating. Use a soft permanent marker to record all the relevant details and make sure the ink has had time to try before you stack your photographs.
Get the Facts
The details you need to write on the reverse of your shot include who the subjects are, where the shot was taken and the date it was taken. If the photograph was taken to commemorate a specific event such as a birthday or presentation you can include this information too. The more details you can include the better. This not only assists in identification and storage, but will also be appreciated by anyone who might own the collection after you.
Support for your shots
While you’re cataloguing your photographs make sure they are well-supported on flat, even surface at all times. Photographs suffer structurally over time. If you’re dealing with antique, heavier photographs; they risk breaking in your hand if they do not have an even support.
Steer clear of stationery
Always avoid using sticky tape, rubber bands, staples, glue and paperclips; they can all damage the surface of your photographs, causing stains, scratches and tears.
In the frame
If you’d like to frame your shots and put them on display, choose your frame carefully. Look for acid-free back boards and consider using a transparent, acid-free cover to prevent your photograph from coming into direct contact with the glass.