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Conservation Notes: Photo-storage tips from a conservator

August 26th, 2013

By Katharine Whitman, AGO Conservator of Photographs

Photographs are often a family’s most precious objects. Whether they are of your great-great-grandfather or your daughter, they act as a record of your family for generations to come. What follows are some pointers for ensuring that your photograph collection will still be around — and in good shape — for many years.

One of Jack Chambers' photographic studies for  Lunch, part of the AGO archives. Two photos are layered, and when the one on top is pulled back, you can see the protected image and the original colour of the bottom print. The top of the print has been faded by exposure to light.

One of Jack Chambers’ photographic studies for Lunch, part of the AGO archives. Two photos are layered, and when the one on top is pulled back, you can see the protected image and the original colour of the bottom print, its upper portion faded by exposure to light.

DO:

  • Store your photographs in acid-free, PAT (Photographic Activity Tested) materials. The PAT logo should be on the packaging of the material if it has been approved.
  • Keep your photographs in areas that have controlled temperature and stable humidity, like your living room.
  • Photos on display (framed or otherwise)should be kept out of direct sunlight and behind UV-coated Plexiglass. They should also be backed with acid-free materials, not regular cardboard.
  • Photographs should only be held by the edges to keep fingerprints from forming in the image. Handle photographs with cotton gloves whenever possible, for the same reason.
  • Store your negatives in a separate place from your photographs — if something happens to your photographs, you want your negatives available to make more prints.
  • If you are shooting exclusively digital photographs, make sure you back up your collection regularly to an external drive and store that drive in a separate place from your computer.

DON’T:

  • Don’t keep your photographs in an uninsulated attic or basement. The fluctuations in temperature and humidity are detrimental to the photographs.
  • Keep any framed photographs from direct contact with the glass to avoid sticking; use a matboard edge to create space within the frame.
  • Do not use clear tape to repair tears in a photograph; only use the PAT-approved tapes that can be found in many art supply stores.
  • Do not store photographs in old “magnetic” albums, in which clear plastic film covers photos stuck to the page — these will cause your photos to yellow over time and the photos will permanently adhere to the pages.
  • Do not store photographs in albums that use adhesives to keep them in place.
  • Do not use ink on the photographs; use pencils gently instead.
  • Do not use rubber bands, staples or paperclips on photographs — these will permanently damage them.
  • Don’t display particularly precious original photographs. Instead, have copies made and display those instead.

Lastly, and maybe the most important tip of all…
When in doubt, consult an expert! If you’re storing one-of-a-kind and/or valuable artworks, always work with a professional.


Curious about Conservation?
If you have a burning question about Conservation, leave a comment below. We’ll do our best to give you an answer in an upcoming Conservation Notes post.


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