Archives and Manuscripts: Administration of Photograph Collections 1. Photographs in Archival Collections

    • Photographs began in France in 1826 and in 1845 Daguerreotypes became popular. The next process the Collodion process (wet plate negative) produced Ambrotypes and tin types which were cheaper to process than Daguerreotypes.
    • Documentary photographs – photos that provide evidence that something existed or that a particular event happened.

2. History of the Photographic Process

  • Definitions
    • Polarity – negative or positive image
    • Base – provides support for the light-sensitive emulsion and can be metal, glass, film or paper (and even ceramic, leather or cloth in some instances)
    • Emulsions – albumen, collodion or gelatin with the most common light sensitive material being silver salts
    • Image Formation – occurs when a light sensitive emulsion is exposed to light under controlled circumstances
    • Contact print- a print produced when a negative is placed in direct contact with sensitized paper and exposed to light
    • Printing out papers (POP) – paper placed in contact with a negative and exposed to light through the negative
    • Developing out paper (DOP) – paper exposed for much less time and then must be developed chemically to produce the image
    • Fixing image – treating paper to remove excess silver so it won’t continue to darken. You must properly fix and wash photos for them to remain stable.
  • Photograph types
    • Daguerreotypes – 1839 – 1850’s
    • Calotype – makes use of a paper negative to produce a plain (uncoated) salted paper print
    • Platinum print or Plainotype – uncoated paper print in which the light sensitive materials were soaked into the paper 1873 – 1930’s
    • Cyanotype – plain paper print known for its blue color
    • Collodion emulsions – 1850 – 1880 wet plate process produced ambrotypes and tin types
    • Ambrotype – glass plate negative that was baked with black to make it appear positive 1852 – 1881
    • Tin type – metal sheet with an image produced “backward” The image looked like a daguerreotype
    • Collodian wet plate negative – the first major negative/positive photography combination
    • Albumen Emulsions – negatives were impractical because of the long exposure times but the prints were great

3. Appraisal and collecting policies

  • Factors of appraisal for photographs
  1. Evidential value
  2. Informational value
  3. Research vale
  4. Age
  5. Form
  6. Volume
  7. Copyright
  8. Relationship to other archival materials
  9. Intrinsic value

4. Arrangement and Description

    • Collections of photographs, especially contemporary collections of considerable volume, will be more useful to researchers if they contain analytical descriptions of groups of materials at the collection, series or folder levels
    • Photographs that should be kept together
  1. Work of a particular photographer
  2. Photos that were created or systematically and deliberately collected by one individual or institution
  3. Groups that were produced or collected about one subject or topic
  4. Collections comprised of a particular format or process (ie daguerreotypes or alumnen)
  5. Photographs that are sequential in number or time or that document a particular event place or person
  6. Any collection that has any other sort of internal order, particularly if there are related written materials.
    • Photos with out a system – they may be dispersed and handled, as are single photos, by forming artificial collections or by placing individual photos in a general file (carefully document your process!)
    • Steps for processing
  1. Checklist – helps bring together the various steps of planning, analysis and decision making necessary to process a collection
  2. Collection file – accession file
  3. Accessioning – All photos should be entered into an accession log. The log is the one place where the entrance of all materials into the repository can be traced. The log indicates whether a collection is stored as a collection or in a general file, was traded or sold to another institution, or was discarded
  4. Label – Keep the materials in the original boxes until you begin processing your collection. The boxes may have some valuable information. The container label should show
    1. Accession number
    2. Collection name
    3. Volume of materials (box 1 of __)
    4. Dates of collection
  5. Preliminary Inventory – change nothing about the collection during this step including the enclosure materials, physical arrangement or removal of any descriptive materials. The objective is to gather information about the content and structure of the collection, photo types and collection conservation needs. The inventory should have the following fields
    1. Accession number
    2. Name
    3. Volume or size
    4. Inclusive dates
    5. Predominant dates
    6. Types of processes
    7. Photographers
    8. Major subjects (short listing)
    9. Analysis of the collection
      1. Description of overall nature of the collection its various elements and how they interrelate
      2. Note existing order and evaluate its adequacy for access
    10. Related materials/cross reference
  6. Arrangement
    1. Individual photos – interfiled with other photos to form various types of groups (artificial collection)
    2. Groups of photos – if the group of photos does not meet the criteria for a collection then treat them as individual photos with in the collection (ie if the collection has no order). The most common arrangement is by subject, however if photos are numbered order them by number
    3. Photos in manuscript collections – if the materials are very closely related they can be kept together, otherwise separate the photos but use a separation sheet to denote the original presence of the photo and the new location
  7. Numbering
  8. Negatives – negatives should be filed separately from the prints and access to them should be restricted.
  9. Description – at collection level report the characteristics of the collection and interpretation of the collection, dates and subject
  10. Identification – create files with lists of events in your area to help with the identification and dating of your photos. Ex. list the dates of important building construction, when your city switches from gas light to electric light etc to help you with dating photos
  11. Visual access – allow researchers access to photos. You can use the originals, photocopies or microfilm
  12. Indexes

5. Preservation of photographic materials

    • Three functions of conservation
  1. Examination – actions undertaken to determine the original structures and materials and the extend of deterioration and loss
  2. Preservation – procedures designed to stabilize existing conditions and prevent deterioration by controlling the environment, providing suitable housing and storage and monitoring use and handling
  3. Restoration – actions to stabilize and return a deteriorated or damaged artifact as nearly as possible to its original condition (should be left to trained conservators)
    • You must know and be able to identify different photographic processes so you know how to preserve them.
    • Archival institutions should focus their energies on examination and preservation and avoid restoration in mot instances.
    • Record all treatments for future reference, ex removal of mat or repairs of tears
    • The emulsion is the most important layer in a photograph because it is what carries the image.
    • The most important thing to remember about photographs is that they often consist of several dissimilar materials, each of which will react somewhat differently and perhaps in position to one another, in response to changes in the environmental conditions.
    • Causes of deterioration
  1. High temperature and humidity – 75 degrees and 60% RH
    1. Accelerates harmful chemical reactions
    2. Promotes softening of gelatin emulsions causing photos to stick to each other
    3. Mold growth
    4. Increase in deteriorative effect of residual processing chemicals
  2. Low humidity (below 15%) or fluctuating RH
    1. Emulsions with crack, peel or become embrittled
    2. Frequent fluctuations with differential rates of expansion and contraction of base and emulsion materials will make the layers of the photo unstable and they will start to separate
  3. Atmospheric pollutants – ozone, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide etc
    1. Initiates deteriorative chemical reactions that stain and degrade the base materials
    2. Accelerates fading, staining or loss of image
    3. Solid particles (gritty dirt) can abrade image layers, hold moisture and deposit acidic compounds on the photo
  4. Light exposure – visible light (violet – blue – green) & the most damaging UV
    1. Will not affect metallic silver image if it is properly fixed, but it speeds up the detrimental effects of oxidation and other harmful chemical reactions especially to paper and film bases
    2. Fading
    3. Harmful chemical reactions that are initiated by light will continue even after the photographs have been placed in dark storage
  5. Biological – mold & pests
    1. High temperature and RH will promote mold which will obliterate the image
    2. Rodent damage is permanent and droppings are corrosive and cause permanent stains.
  6. Residual Processing chemicals – chemicals react with the silver in the emulsion to form silver sulfide which turns the image brownish yellow. Yellowish stains are also caused by the above silver sulfide. High temperature and RH speed up this process
  7. Harmful materials and fumes – acidic paper, plastic fumes, acidic and staining adhesives, fumes from cleaning supplies and paint ext oxidizes the photos
  8. Disasters – fire water etc
  9. Abuse and mismanagement
    1. Improper storage and handling
    2. Abusive exhibit techniques
    3. Tape
    4. Writing on photos with felt or ballpoint pen
    5. No intellectual control (indexes) increases unnecessary handling
    6. Lack of a disaster pan etc
  • Preservation actions
    • Have your environment at a steady 68 degrees +- 2 degrees and RH of 35-40%. At all times the temperature should be below 70 degrees. Storage of photos should be separate from paper because the RH is lower than for paper storage
    • The primary goal is a stable temperature and RH; this is even more important than monitoring conditions precisely within the recommended ranges.
    • Filter your light and air and keep your air circulation going to prevent mold.
  • Storage
    • Wood should be avoided because of the lignen, peroxide and formic acid which leaches out and damages the materials. If you must use it seal it with several coats of polyurethane varnish and then air the shelves for several weeks to allow offgassing.
    • Individual enclosures
  1. paper – high alpha cellulose content and contain no lignen, ground wood or alum-rosin sizing. They should be PH neutral 7.0 and paper should not have an alkaline reserve
  2. plastic – inert plastic – polyester, polyethylene, polypropylene or cellulose triacetate with NO surface coatings or UV absorbers.
    • You must consider your environment first. If you have a high RH plastic enclosures will encourage ferrotyping (photos with shiny areas) and the static will bring dust to abrade the photos and will also lift fragile and flaking emulsions. In bad environments use paper enclosures
    • Avoid storing photos in:
  1. Kraft and manila paper – acidic
  2. Glassine – acidic and hygroscopic – it will attract moisture and stick to the photo
  3. PVC
  4. Rubber bands – sulfur
  5. Tape
  • Storage for specific formats and processes
    • Cased photos –
  1. Document everything you do to the photo to preserve the artifactual value and to prevent future disassembly
  2. If the photo has its original binding tape intact do not remove or touch it
  3. You can clean the glass with a mild soap and water and then allow it to dry thoroughly
  4. Do not clean the photos
  5. Weak cases should be wrapped and stored flat in a single layer in a drawer or box (put a photo of the object on the outside of the box or wrapping to reduce handling)
  6. Loose photos should be matted and glassed to preserve the image (consult a conservator)
    • Daguerreotypes – extremely fragile NEVER touch the photo, even air spray can damage. The original glass can be corrosive to the photo so try to replace it with appropriate glass
    • Ambrotypes – you can replace the black background with black archival paper, otherwise they are very fragile so do not attempt anything else
    • Tin Types – Do not try to flatten bent images. Do not wash. Store sandwiched between mat and museum board inside an envelope. You can clean with a brush or air if the emulsion is stable.
    • Paper prints – enclose, but respect any curves or curling in the paper (do not put pressure on the print). Do not remove the print from the original mount even if it is acidic.
    • Salt prints (rare) – do not surface clean. Store in low light and humidity environment. Store with support, i.e. on museum board with polyester over the image and then stored inside a four flap enclosure. Inspect them regularly and send to a conservator for repair
    • Albumen print – generally have fissures or cupping in the albumen layer. Un-mounted prints can curl tightly so sore them with a rigid support (board) inside and enclosure. You can lightly brush the surface of a sturdy print
    • Collodion prints – rigid support inside an enclosure. They are susceptible to abrasion and very sensitive to solvents and water.
    • Gelatin prints – store in a stable environment due to the nature of the emulsion inside the envelopes (will soften in high humidity)
    • Resin coated papers – not acceptable as archival copies. The emulsion exhibits crazing – make copies on a fiber based paper
    • Oversize photos – store in folders (no more than 12 per folder) with tissue or film between the photos and inside a box or drawer. Very large photos can be rolled on the outside of a tube (the larger the better) with tissue as an interleaving layer (like rolling quilts). Lay the tube flat not upright
    • Framed photos – all should be removed from the frame and examined then filed in proper housing. If the frame is significant reassemble with conservation materials.
    • Scrapbook & Albums – make every attempt to maintain scrapbooks in original form (do not remove photos). If the scrapbook needs copying for access do it with a photograph not photocopier. Send to a conservator for work. Store flat with interleaving acid free paper if necessary and if the binding can handle the extra strain.
    • Glass plate negative – broken or damaged plates can be supported between two pieces of glass cut to the same size as the negative and fixed with tape around the edges and stored flat. You can use a soft brush or air bulb to clean. Strong negatives can be put in paper and stored vertically, usually in slots designed to hold them upright. DO NOT STACK.
    • Film – negatives – store in paper envelopes
    • Cellulose nitrate – 1899 – 1951 will self destruct and off gassing will destroy other photos
  • Safety film first used in 1934
    • ID test
  1. cut thin sliver from the edge of negative and light with match. Cellulose nitrate will flare and give off an acrid odor. Safety fill will not flare and will burn slowly with the match held to the film
  2. Specific gravity – a ¼” chip of film placed in a tube with 25 cc of trichloroethane and 45cc of trichloroethylene. Shake the bottle, cellulose nitrate sinks, cellulose triacetate floats and polyester is in the middle
    • Deterioration of cellulose nitrate
  1. Film base turns yellow – brown, accompanies by staining and fading of image
  2. Emulsion becomes soft and tacky causing film to stick to other surfaces
  3. Film base contains gas bubbles and emits nitric acid
  4. Film softens and welds to adjacent film and is frequently covered with a viscous froth
  5. Film degenerates entirely or partially into a brownish acid powder.
    • Store nitrate at 50 degrees F and 30-40%RH with good ventilation and stored in paper sleeves. Do not store with other photos (will damage them) and do not reuse storage materials for other photos. For long term storage store film at 0 degrees F
    • Safety film (cellulose acetate) paper enclosures and cold storage
    • Color photos – subject to fading should be stored in the dark and exhibited for very short times 0-10 degrees F and 25-30% RH. Do not store photos in cold storage that need regular access. You can have color separation master negatives made with grayscale to preserve the image.
  • 6) Legal issues
    • Collections with sketch deed of gift info – even if the donor is unknown, in most instances it can be assumed that the photos are held by the archives by the intent of the donor, to be used in fulfilling the mission of the repository. Despite the lack of legal agreements, undocumented photographs probably are in the archives not by accident, but rather because they were donated to the repository for save keeping as well as for research, exhibition and similar purposed. In such instances, as much supporting documentation as can be pieced together regarding original source should be recorded, and the institution should proceed judiciously in making the materials available for research use and publication.
    • Copies of original photographs also may be acquired by a repository as a part of a concerted effort during copy clinics or because a donor is unwilling to part with the original items. Such transactions also must be documented and reproduction rights must be acquired if possible.
    • If a donor will not sign a deed of gift get them to sign a letter of agreement (spelling out the gift). Letters of agreement are legally acceptable and can serve as non-threatening transfer documents, they should spell out the intent of the donor as well as any negotiated agreements or understandings
    • Deposit agreements – should be negotiated if the donor is unwilling to make a permanent gift to the archives and the institution feels that the collection is important enough to accept, given the fact that it may some day be withdrawn from the archives. The agreement may include financial reimbursement for supplies and storage if the collection is removed.
    • The agreement should specify:
  1. terms of deposit
  2. reproduction rights
  3. length of deposit
  4. provisions for renewal of agreement or eventual transfer of ownership to repository.
    • Bill of sale – get as much provenance as possible from the dealer
  1. should describe the materials and provenance
  2. have a written statement regarding copyright status of the material following the sale
    • Copyright – work must be original and fixed in a tangible form of expression to receive copyright
    • Copyright owner’s exclusive rights
  1. right to reproduce work
  2. right to prepare derivative works
  3. right to distribute work
  4. right to publicly perform work
  5. right to publicly display work
    • 1976 copyright law
  1. Newly created photographs and those neither published nor registered for copyright by January 1, 1978 are protected by a copyright term for a photographer’s life plus 50 years. The new law thus requires that biographical info on photographers be compiled in order to determine the copyright expiration of photos
  2. Photos published before 1978 are protected for 28 years from the date copyright was first secured, with an option of renewal for an additional 47 years.
    • Anonymous photos or corporate works (work for hire) are protected for a term of 75 years from the date of first publication or 100 years from the date of creation, whichever comes first
    • Copyright originally secured from 1950-1977 must be renewed or it expires at the end of 28 years
    • Anonymous or unpublished works are copyrighted for the life of the photographer plus 50 years or 100 years after creation whatever comes first. At a minimum, such works are guaranteed protection under the new law for 25 years. Thus most photos in archival collections – registered or not and whether or not the photographers are known are copyrighted until December 31, 2002

7. Managing a photographic copy service

    • All negatives that exhibit chipping or flaking emulsions are endangered and should be kept rigid and handled as little as possible with no flexing. It is mandatory that you make a preservation copy of the negative
    • Preservation copying candidates – delicate unstable images (prints and negatives), prints affixed to cardboard mounts, scrapbooks, unstable photos, prints and negatives with stains from residual processing chemicals.

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