How to Preserve Your Old Photos Part 1

Older photos whether on paper, slides or in strips of negatives, deteriorate over time no matter how well they are stored. In addition, many old family pictures are the only remaining copies and cannot be replaced if they are damaged in a flood or fire, stolen or misplaced. This is why it is always best to have your old photos digitized and if necessary, digitally restored by a professional.

Awhile back 29k Productions worked with a client who needed thousands of slides scanned. The oldest slides had been stored properly for up to 50 years until the person who had taken them passed away. Then his family packed up dozens of shipping boxes full of the slides and put them in a storage shed for another 10 years before making the decision to have them scanned. By the time we saw the slides many had begun deteriorating. They had odd color shifts, many of their paper mounts had become brittle, causing the film to shift. Dust and grime that may have once been easily removed was thoroughly ingrained into the slides. We were able to restore the slides, but it was a lesson in just how important it is to store old media properly.

General Organization
Your old photos should be organized so it is easy to find the ones you want and none get misplaced. This also helps your children and grandchildren as they look through your collections of old pictures. Each photo should at minimum be organized by the month and year in which it was taken, if not by exact date if you have it available.

With slides, labeling is made easy by having a separate slide sheet in a slide carousel. You simply list the slides' content in order so that it is easy to find them. With photos you can use an album for labeling or package the photos in manila folders along with their information. You should never write the information on the picture itself--not even on the back, as this can damage the print. For negative strips, it is usually best to use an envelope system, and you can write the information on the outside of the envelope or include a typewritten description in each envelope.

You should also include important information about the picture that you may remember now, but that you may not recall later. This would include the location and the names of any important people or pets in the image. It was a nightmare helping my own family go through our own genealogy pictures, because many of us had never met some of the people or pets in the pictures. Some were of people we would have easily recognized in their later years but had no hope of recognizing when they were younger.

Had the photos been properly labeled by the people who had taken them or even someone who had lived during those times it would have been a much easier task to pair the photo with the correct person. Even dates or locations would have helped us immensely. The earlier you can get your family's old photos organized and labeled, the better your chances for having accurate information and being able to find the ones you need.

Storing Slides Properly
Slides should be stored in a cool, dry place out of direct light. The temperature and humidity should remain as consistent as possible in order to prevent deterioration. In general, the relative humidity should stay within the range of 30-40%. Slides should be stored at a low (non-freezing) temperature of 40o or below. However, it is most important to keep them at a consistent temperature. You can store slides at temperatures up to 70o so long as the temperature and humidity remain consistent.

Slide Boxes - Use opaque plastic slide boxes or thick, sturdy, acid-free cardboard to store your slides in slide carousels and label the side of the box with the general content and dates of the slides. You will include your detailed list of slide content on the slide information sheet inside of the box, so no need to get too detailed on the outside label. If you have typed out your slide information sheet and have it as a file on your computer, you can include the file's location and name on the label for easier tracking. It's a great idea to add a packet of silica gel to each box of slides to absorb any moisture that might make its way in. If storage space is an issue, there are more compact opaque plastic slide boxes that can be used where the slides are stored outside of a carousel, however robust labeling becomes even more important for slides stored in this way.

Slide Storage Pages - Slide storage pages have individual pockets for each slide and will fit into a three-ring binder of hanging file box. You should fill each pocket with a slide and ensure there is an intuitive labeling system to make slide identification easy. If you go with a binder, store the binders in an opaque plastic or thick, sturdy, acid-free cardboard box with a packet of silica gel. The label on each binder or file box should have the general content of the slides and the dates.

Next week we'll tackle storing photo prints and negatives. We'll also talk about additional storage issues that come up in photo preservation discussions such as freezing and off-site archiving.

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