Modern Photography/Conservation

The conservation of images allows them to be protected and preserved for the appreciation and use of future generations.

The museum ideal of total atmospheric control and steel-cabinet storage may be impossible for an individual collector, but reasonable protection from sunlight and damaging substances is within the reach of anyone.

The Care and Restoration of Photographs, Lee D. Witkin and Barbara London, The Photograph Collector's Guide (1979)

Analog photographs and filmEdit

Traditional, analog photography typically produced prints and film, both of which are subject to physical decay due to chemical and physical processes. High end conservation is really the complex domain of professionals. One of the leading institutions in this area is the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, who periodically publish the results of in-depth investigations in these areas. For the rest of us, there are simple threats that we can be aware of to minimize damage to our images:

  • Avoid ultra-violet light, such as sunlight, especially directly. Exposure to UV light can rapidly destroy many types of images. If an image must be placed in a location that threatens exposure to UV light for a temporary period, then there are UV-protective transparent materials available that will provide increased protection versus regular glass or perspex.
  • Careful handling
    • Use single use or rare use white cotton gloves when handling pieces.
      • Avoid touching images with your hands. Hands can carry acids, oil, bacteria, and all sorts of nasties which can discolour and destroy an image over time. This is most frequently seen with paper medium as brown stains on the edges of old images or postcards, though it also definitely affects film.
    • Avoid dragging images over surfaces. If you absolutely must place an image face-down on a surface, then it may be better to work with images on a clean, soft surface such rather than risk scratching them on something hard. This is particularly the case with film.
  • Store in a cool, dry, dark location.
    • Avoid high humidity. In addition, especially for organic medium, avoid rapid changes in humidity which can accelerate decay. High humidity can cause condensation which will destroy organic medium. It is also a favorable environment for some bacteria and fungi.
    • Avoid high temperatures. In addition, especially for organic medium, avoid rapid changes in temperature which can accelerate decay. High temperature is a favorable environment for some bacteria and fungi.
    • Avoid unnecessary exposure to bright light.
  • Protection
    • Appropriate use of matting and framing to help preserve images on display from physical contact or light based degradation

In addition to the above processes, you can consider digitizing your images, in which case you should read on.

Digital imagesEdit

Digital systems do not care what data is stored upon them, therefore the conservation of digital images essentially equates to the conservation of other types of digital data, with the exception of care needing to be taken in the process of initial digitization should the image have been formed through analog processes and digitized rather than originally having come in to being as a digital image. In general, digital data preservation takes the approach of redundancy at multiple levels, since copying digital data is virtually free. First, redundancy is achieved at the device-level to ensure that data is not lost if a storage device fails. Second, at the site level, to ensure that data is not lost of an individual site such as a house, business or museum is bombed, burgled, burns to the ground, etc. Finally, publishing copies of the data to interest parties (such as through peer to peer technologies such as Bittorrent) can further assist with the global distribution of data. An additional technology that may be utilized is integrity-checking within the storage subsystem, for example the modern ZFS computer file system provides guarantees against data corruption due to failures in other system components.