Menu Icon

Research News

Conservation of Photographs

by John Noack

The State Records of NSW published in its Newsletter Now and Then (Number 21 August 2006) the following hints in regard to keeping photos safe from harm. Photos deteriorate because of (1) the inherent instability involved in the printing process and (2) environmental factors such as poor framing, pollutants, light, humidity, temperature and handling. However, there are ways of preventing such damage.

  1. Labelling and cataloguing photographs is very important. Labels can be recorded on the pages of an album in pen or recorded on the back of the photo, (if written in a graphite or chinagraph pencil, using light pressure). Use of pens on photos can cause stains.
  2. Storage in controlled atmosphere of low temperature and low relative humidity is ideal, but few homes can offer this. Needed is a place that maintains a stable, cool, dry, and clean environment. A centrally located, well-insulated room with good ventilation, a temperature below 20 degrees and a relative humidity between 35-55% is satisfactory.
  3. Albums and frames provide some protection but it is better to display copies of photos and to keep the originals in good storage. Photo albums should pass the Photographic Activity Test (P.A.T). They should not contain sulfur or acidic materials or be coloured with dyes. Plastic enclosures or pockets should be polyester, polyethylene or polypropylene. PVC or polyvinyl acetate should not be used because it contains salt and chlorine.
    Photos in frames should be placed on non-buffered acid-free cotton rag board. Photo corners are good for attaching photos to an album page. Magnetic or self-adhesive albums should not be used because the adhesives degrade and cause staining.
  4. Digital copies can be made for display purposes but the use of digital technology should not lead to discarding the original photographs.

This summary was based on the article published in “The Endeavour: the Newsletter of the Botany Bay Family History Society Inc, No 88, Sep 2006, pp. 21-22.