In my last trip to my mother’s ancestral home, I found about 300 old family pictures. I don’t think I’ve been so excited in a long time, it makes me feel just so wow. These images range from family events, school photographs, formal portraits to random snapshots. And each and everyone is more beautiful than the other.
Now there are two questions basically, how to archive them and how to store them. I did a little research about this and here is the final report! I’m writing this both for Prints & Negatives but be careful when reading because some parts are just for one medium.
Scan Scan Scan
Scan all the images with your flatbed scanner. Photographic prints are delicate, they lose color overtime and fade. So scan them as soon as you can. The higher the resolution the better. I prefer scanning them in TIFF format so they don’t get compressed. Then you can put them in proper order, folders named the same as your storage box numbers. The same advice goes for negatives, scan scan scan.
Some images might not be clean, might have smears on them or glue. So what to do now? Read this part very very carefully if you’re going to handle old prints / negatives.
- Make a copy! This is the most important thing to do first. Scan the image with the smears or whatever it might be. APUG says that you could also make a copy on film but I think thats not really possible now unless you have your own darkroom.
- If you have access to importing chemicals, Kodak and Ilford both produce emulsion cleaning liquids to clean old negatives.
- If you don’t have access, then you can use Isopropyl Alcohol (not whiskey, not rum!). Kodak says “We recommend isopropyl alcohol that has a purity of 98 percent or higher as a good, general-purpose cleaning solvent for photographic materials.”
- You can use a mixture of alcohol and water to clean the prints. Because older prints don’t have a lacquer / varnish to protect them, you have to be really careful and use cotton swabs ONLY.
Most websites will say that you can use a permanent marker to write behind the photos (date, people, event etc) but I don’t really support the idea. Use a plastic sleeve to store photos and you can use a permanent marker to write on the sleeve instead of the photograph itself. Secondly, all negatives or prints should be stored in a dark cool place, in airtight boxes. You can pick them up from a departmental store, like tupperware. If you can’t find plastic sleeves, then you can always use airtight bags which you can get on any store.
Its important that you remove all tapes, paper envelopes from the photographs, specially prints. These images have acid so they make the images turn yellow and fade over time. That is the reason why you can’t store images in albums. Make sure they are put in sealed plastic boxes or metal boxes for storage. Also never ever frame the original image (in case you have only one print). Make a copy and then frame that. Framing overtime will lead to issues which I don’t even want to get into right now (picture sticking on the glass, mount eating into the frame, etc etc)
Making Something More
Its a totally different feeling finding a picture which is 60 years old, which tells a story and which you can connect with. So do something more with your pictures other than posting them online, print them, write behind them and give them to your friends, family, or just someone random. Write postcards with them. Make memories for someone else to find years from now.