In this article I will cover the proper way to preserve and store vintage photographs. First lets cover the enemies of a photograph.
Enemies of a Photograph
Extreme temperatures (hot or cold) can cause the chemicals in the photograph to change this can have many effects on the photograph. Example of damage that heat can cause.
Excessive moisture such as humidity (too much or too little) can deteriorate the composition of an image. When you have excessive moisture and extreme temperatures this can be highly destructive to photos. Example of damage that moisture can cause:
- Paper deterioration
- Separation of the image from mounting cards and boards
- Tintypes will crack, bubble or peel
Many types of light (UV, natural light and fluorescent) can have damaging effects on a photograph and other types of artwork.
Example of damage that light can cause:
- Bleach your images
- Darken your images
- Paper brittleness
Handling images can cause all types of damage. When you handle images, things like skin oil, dust, dirt, pollution, smoke (wood fires, smoking and cooking) and cleaning products can have adverse effects on photographs and other artworks.
Example of damage that handling can cause:
- Complete destruction of the image
- Detail obscuring
- Tarnish (metal based photographs such as tintypes)
How to Store Your Photographs
Temperature – The best climate conditions for photos to be stored in is 68°F with 30-40% humidity. As most of us do not have climate controlled storage areas in a house the best place for storage is a cool dark closet.
Places to avoid are:
- Out buildings
Storage Containers and Organization – You will want to use archival quality boxes that are acid-free. Any paper or plastic dividers or separators need to also be made of acid free material.
Tips for Storing Photographs:
- Remove photos from old school photo albums like peel and stick, old PVC albums or old self mounted albums that are not acid free.
- Label your photographs with permanent marker. Do no use a ballpoint pen or gel pen, the ink and pressure you need to write on a photograph with them will damage the photograph. At many craft stores you can get acid free photograph making pens.
- Remove any of the following from your photos before storing them.
- Adhesive – glue, mount squares, tape, etc…
- Physical items – staples, paper clips, rubber bands, and clips
- Store your photographs in plastic sleeves or with acid free tissue paper between them. This will keep them clean and from sticking to each other over time. One cost effective alternative to this is using ziplock (PVC free) or sandwich bags (PVC free).
- Also make a digital copy of your photographs just in case something happens to your photos.
Tips for Framing Your Photographs:
- When framing your photographs make sure to use acid-free mounts and backing.
- Make sure the photo is not pressed against the glass. You can do this by using photo mats.
- If your image is going to be in a well lit room with direct sunlight, use UV glass in your frame.
- Wood causes damage to photos. If you choose a wooden frame make sure your photo is not touching the wood.
- In most cases you have to ask for acid-free paper, mats and UV glass when you have your photographs professionally framed. These materials cost more but are well worth it to save your family memories.
- To prolong the lifetime of your photos when framing you can consider framing a copy of the image and keeping the original safe. You can then reprint the image if it ever becomes damaged or fades.
- When handling images there are some steps you should take to protect the images from damage.
- Protect your images from oil and dirt from your hands by wearing white cotton gloves.
- Handle your images in a clean and dry area.
- Make sure you do not have food or drinks nearby that can spill or be dropped on the image.
- Think about digitizing your images for sharing (to cut down on handling the image). This way you can still enjoy your images and share them more with friends and family. This will also make a backup of your photos in case an accident happens.
In closing keep your photographs in an environment you yourself would want to be in.