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Photo Preservation in a Snap : STORAGE

July 30, 1994|From Associated Press

Time, temperature and other environmental elements can have a negative effect on your photographs.

Photos are just pieces of paper with a thin chemical coating, and they can be easily damaged by the environment, improper storage and rough handling.

Here are the steps you can take, and the things to avoid, in order to preserve them for posterity:

* Avoid direct sunlight and extreme heat and humidity, whether your photos are kept in an album, in frames or loose. Any of these elements can change a photo's chemistry, causing fading, discoloration and warping.

* Store photos in rooms where you feel most comfortable, suggests Grant Romer, director of education at the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y. That would rule out hot attics or humid basements, where photos are likely to grow mold or become brittle and flake.

* Never store photos or albums above a radiator, Romer adds.

* Light can turn a normal photo into a faded and discolored image in just 10 years. Keep photos away from areas that receive direct sunlight and away from lamps and overhead lights.

* Handle photos as little as possible. If there are special photos that you want to display or pass among relatives, have extra copies made and carefully preserve the originals. Fingerprints, which contain oils and amino acids, also damage photos.

* Store all valued photos in acid-free file folders, envelopes and boxes.

* The album is an important aspect of photo survival. Today's most popular photo albums--those with sticky backings and sheets of plastic that cover the snapshots--are actually the most damaging. Over time, the sticky backing becomes more tenacious, making it difficult to remove photos without destroying them. The clear plastic sheets that cover the pictures can pull the emulsion off photos.

* Pasting photos into scrapbooks will also damage prints.

* Acid-free archival albums and mounting corners, which don't require the use of glue on the photos, are a better choice. This method allows for easy removal of photos whenever you want. Archival albums, however, can cost twice as much as regular albums. To keep expenses down, sort through your photo collection and select only the most important ones for your album.

* Albums, like loose photos, should be stored in a relatively cool, dark, dry, dust-free environment.

* When framing photos, use acid-free matte board and airtight frames. It is important to keep the image away from the glass--if humidity gets in between the photo and the glass, the emulsion from the photo will come off on the glass when the photo is removed from the frame.

* Insert acid-free paper behind the photo. If the photo touches cardboard or wood, it can absorb damaging resins and acids from its backing and matte.

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