Henderson County, Kentucky
Photographs document history in a special way, and as we
collect them, they complement our family papers, providing a graphic reality
and a unique understanding of our family's past.
A relatively new process, photography was developed in France
and England by the 1840s. This distinctive method of documentation spread
quickly throughout the world, spurred by the industrial revolution and
the Civil War. During the same period, the general public also discovered
the benefit of documenting events or family importance.
A photographic print or negative consists of a base material;
coated with a light sensitive emulation. Over the years, base materials
and emulations have changed. None the less, photographs remain physically
and chemically more complex than paper materials. They are susceptible
to deterioration by chemicals left over from processing or careless handling.
Light sensitive emulsions are also subject to fading when exposed to light
and the instability of color dyes rend all color photographs impermanent.
Preserving your family photographs requires more than simply
placing them in a shoe box or any convenient album. Often the materials
of which these items are constructed place photographs at risk.
- Avoid fluctuation in temperature and humidity: High levels of temperature
and relative humidity accelerate destructive chemical reactions and
encourage mold growth that feed on photographic emulsions. The optimal
temperature is 68 degrees F and 35 to 40% relative humidity.
- Promote cleanliness: In addition to causing stains, dirt, food, and
drinks attract vermin which feed on photographs.
- Avoid direct light sources: Photographic images are extremely light
sensitive. Exposure to light should be closely monitored and direct
sources of light avoided.
- Promote good storage practices: Use only archival quality materials
to store your photographs. Avoid the use of "magnetic" or
self stick photo albums. These, along with plain cardboard, wooden,
or metal boxes can cause serious damage to your photographs. Never store
photographs in a basement or attic.
- Hold photographs and negatives by the edge: Avoid touching the emulsion
- Identification is important: Use a soft pencil and mark on the back
edges. Excessive pressure will leave an imprint on the front side. (New
photographic prints will not take pencil marking. For them, you need
a photo pen, which you can find at most photographic stores or office
supply stores.) Never use a ballpoint pen.
- Storing Photographs: Avoid using pressure sensitive tapes: Pressure
sensitive tapes, along with most adhesives, rubber bands, and metal
clips can damage photographs and cause severe staining.
- Frame carefully: At least one layer of acid-free mat board should
separate the photograph from the glass. High levels of relative humidity
can cause photographic emulsions to stick to the glass in a picture
Source: Bureau of Archives and Records Management, Tallahassee,
Published in The Legacy, March 1996 Issue, Number 1.