Preservation of Photographs



Emil Bizon: 01 Dec 12

 I recently acquired a book on this subject. It has a lot of information so I think the classmates interested in family history and family archives might find something useful here.

The book by Henry Wilhelm is Permance and Care of Color Photographs, 1993, Preservation Publishing Company, Grinell, Iowa.

First, it empahasizes that black and white negatives and prints have very good archival properties as we see, for example, on Veritas. The early post-war pics, which are uniformally sound, are followed by color from the sixties and later that are degraded, bleeding and inferior. I have a color photo of our squadron fourth year, probably taken on Bill Campbell's camera, which was sharp and true for some time but is now fuzzy with poor color rendition.

One of the author's revelations is that all Kodacolor film exposed between 1942 and 1953 has now, essentially, self-destructed. Both the negative and prints made on Kodak paper are worthless. I have some of these prints; they are orange or yellow, a problem due to unstable magenta color couplers remaining in the print. The same film and paper were sold to professional photographers by Kodak and the essential information about its aging properties was withheld. Corporate ethics at its best! Millions of expensive wedding photos have vanished.

I have noticed that the usual paper now used for prints is by Fuji. The author is categorical that a Fuji SFA3 paper is far superior to Ektacolor Supra Paper, Kodak's professional paper, with an estimated life of 54 years and 12 years for prints, respectively.

Kodachrome slides can be printed directly by a process developed by the Swiss chemical company Ciba-Geigy. I have many prints hanging that were, by luck, done this way and after thirty years or more have not deteriorated. Any that were hit by direct sunlight have faded, however.The process was called Cibachrome. It was sold to Ilford and is now available as Ilfochrome and if stored in the dark, Wilhelm claims a life of 500 years or more!

Kodachrome, invented by Kodak in the late thirties, yields a color transparency directly, as we all know. Its color rendition was outstanding and it does not deteriorate with age. Fujichrome is not quite as good. This film had limitations in that it required precise exposure control, was rather slow at ASA 25 or 64 and its processing was quite complicated. And it needed to be projected when viewed. Kodak saw a mass market in cheaper to produce color negative film which could be exposed in cheap box cameras requiring no knowledge of photographic principles and their sales and profits reflected this fact. So, an analaogy to inkjet printers that sell cheaply but provide a huge market for their consumables.

Storage at low relative humidity and temperature is a good idea. We all learned from Mr Arrhenius that chemical reaction rates are inversely related to temperature, did we not? Humidity above 70% will promote the growth of mold so sealed containers with some dessicant are a good idea.

The digital fanatics will say that all the above has been superseded by storage on sticks or DVD's or similar. Wilhelm replies that hardware and software capable of dealing with these devices is not likely to be available 50 or more years hence. The storage properties of digital media are also rather unknown. CD's do drop notes after some years.

Prints of very good quality can be made by various inkjet and laser printers. I do not have any experience here and Wilhelm did not do any aging work on these. But this topic is well covered in the photography media.

Digital cameras are now ubiquitous and as usually happens, the quality of photographs has hugely declined. We all see photos in Veritas, for example, that are taken against a bright window, directly into the sun, with no knowledge of concepts like depth-of-field, etc. Point and shoot is the mantra and cost is not relevant because storage is cheap. As in music where high fidelity has given way to the necessity of storing and having instantly available 10ⁿ tunes, where n is at least a two digit number.

Very deservedly, Kodak has imploded but some of its products may still be made. I have a few rolls of Kodachrome in my fridge and the last one I exposed yielded good results. There is no longer a Kodak lab in Toronto to develop it but I had it done by Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, Kansas. That was a while ago and I do not know if they are still doing this. They also offered Kodachrome 64 film. Their slides were comparable to Kodak's but I have no knowledge of their process and whether the slides will store as well.

I am not an expert in this but have exposed a lot of film. So I can answer simple questions and I can consult Mr Wilhelm for complex ones.


WIH: 07 Dec 12

Since my archives go back prior to WWII, with B&W supplanted by Kodacolour, Kodachrome and Ektachrome, and eventually by digital, I can vouch for the author's observations. I would add that Kodachrome slides with their prepaid centralized processing have survived well, as can be seen on the class website and in a CTV documentary, Frostbite, which describes Manitoba's contribution to the Cold War. (Even DND was unable to supply photos of T-33's in flight.) However, Kodak's Ektachrome slides, with their local processing, have faired poorly with badly faded colour.

Old Kodacolour negatives can be scanned and Photoshopped to produce reasonable B&W photos. BTW, negatives contain much more information than the corresponding print, and will provide more detail as well as better brightness and contrast.

Back in '72, I was Manager of CIP's Kipawa Mill in Temiscaming, QC, when I was given 4 months to run out the inventories, permanently shut the mill and lay off the 540 employees. After the shut, I stayed 9 months to disentangle the mill from the town and sell off a bunch of properties. With occasional time on my hands, I rummaged through some dusty old vaults and came upon a treasure trove of 8X10 B&W glass negatives exposed in the very early 1900's. They had stayed undisturbed in the cool and dark of the vault for decades. The detail in those photographs was remarkable. I have no idea what happened to them. By the time Tembec bought the site I was Manager of Canfor's Port Mellon mill in BC.

Ironically,as Emil points out, we're beginning to find that digital files are not forever. Some of the hardware on which files are stored has started to deteriorate. Some of our old storage systems may yet prove to be superior.

I should add that, in my 10 years in Temiscaming, the mill supplied Kodak with a very high (95.2%) alpha cellulose grade called Photocell for use in premium photographic papers, and they were a very demanding customer. During the period of atmospheric testing of atomic weapons, we monitored the atmosphere constantly and avoided Photocell when a radioactive "cloud" passed over. All water used came from diatomacious earth filters. Boxcars used for shipment had the walls hammered, the floors swept and sweepings exposed to photographic paper in an autoclave. If the boxcar had ever contained sulphur, we'd find it. (Sulphur and radioactive particles produce black spots in a photograph.)


Bill Lynn: 09 Dec 12

Interesting topic, photo and file preservation.

About 1990 I needed drawings of some work done in the early seventies. The files were on microfilm, so no problem.

About 1995 I needed drawings of some work done around 1990. Sorry, they were on archived tape and there was no longer equipment available to read them. With the succession of CD, DVD, Blu-Ray, Cloud, etc., for file storage, I'm afraid I have little faith in the probability of retrieving digitally archived files in the long term.

(No, I had not noticed Dave's iron ring on the Veritas cover photo.)