Deterioration | Archives and Special Collections

Deterioration - Archives and Special Collections

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Deterioration

Deterioration

Deterioration of photographic materials happens for many reasons. Mould, heat, humidity, pollutants, cracks and tears, improper storage, insects, chemical decay, air exposure, sunlight and even the oil on our skin. Even with the right measures in place to protect them, all photographs will eventually degrade. Environmental factors, such as heat and humidity, lead photographs to deteriorate more quickly. 

Deterioration

Photographic prints stored in a dry environment can roll such as what happened to this one. Andy Nichols photo.

Deterioration

Severely detriorated nitrate negatives from the collections of the Glenbow Archives. Anita Dammer photo.

Deterioration

A positive copy of a acetate negative affected by vinegar syndrome. Canadian Architectural Archives, UCalgary: 28A_78.01_PAN_51436-2.

Deterioration

An acetate negative affected by vinegar syndrome. Canadian Architectural Archives, UCalgary: 28A_78.01_PAN_51436-2.

Vinegar Syndrome

Cellulose acetate film can suffer from a condition known as “vinegar syndrome.” As acetate film begins to decay, it produces vinegar-smelling acetic gas. This acidic gas prompts the plastic base to become brittle and shrink, causing the image-bearing emulsion layer to delaminate and disfigure the image 

Deterioration

An acetate negative affected by vinegar syndrome. The channels and cracks are caused as the emulsion and the plastic base separate. Simpsons Store, south-west section. Canadian Architectural Archives, UCalgary: 28A_78.01_PAN_51436-2.

Deterioration

A positive copy of a acetate negative affected by vinegar syndrome. The channels and cracks are caused as the emulsion and the plastic base separate. Simpsons Store, south-west section. Canadian Architectural Archives, UCalgary: 28A_78.01_PAN_51436-2.

Nitrate film

Cellulose nitrate film was the first film made with a plastic base. Compared to glass plate negatives, nitrate film was portable and easy to use. But as it decaysit becomes highly flammable and under the right conditions, it can self-combust. Many photographers lost their studios and their negative collections in fires caused by nitrate negatives. A fading image is the first sign of nitrate degradation. 

 

Deterioration

Severely detriorated nitrate negatives from the collections of the Glenbow Archives. The first sign of deterioration is a fading image, followed by complete loss of the image and decay of the film. Anita Dammer photo.

Glass Negatives and Slides

Glass negatives and slides face a unique challenge: While the emulsion layer, which sits on a glass plate, degrades like any other photograph, the glass also becomes more brittle with age. The brittleness leaves this format prone to cracks, chips, and shatteringEnvironmental changes can cause the emulsion to flake away from the glass support as the glass cant expand and contract with the emulsion. 

Glass negatives, such as this one from the McDermid Studios of Edmonton, which is missing the top left corner are prone to chips, cracks and breaks. Marshall Wells – Revillon Picnic held at Alberta Beach, July 24th, 1920. Glenbow Library and Archives, UCalgary: B137.

Photographic Prints

Improper storage and rough handling are the greatest threat to the preservation of photographic prints. Many types of photo albums contain glues or acids that can damage prints. Most people keep photos in boxes and drawers, which can cause cracks or tears. Curled prints are often a sign of low humidity because the emulsion layer and its paper support respond differently to environmental changes.  

Unrolling a curled photograph, such as this one, can cause the emulsion to crack and the paper to tear. To safely unroll a photograph like this one, requires humidity, which allows the paper to relax. Andy Nichols photo.

Learn more  

Rochester Institute of Photography Image Permanence Institute Graphics AtlasObject-based approach of the identification and characterization of prints and photographs. 

Nitrate film:

Northeast Document Conservation Center nitrate film 

Vinegar syndrome:

A Visual Glossary of Six Stages of Acetate Film Base Deterioration 

Glass Negatives and Slides:

The Preservation of Glass Plate Negatives