13 July, 2020
In this second post we dive deeper into how to look after your photography collections long term.
Always wear gloves when handling negatives, they protect the negative, and protect you from any residual chemicals.
The most common way to determine what is on a negative is to hold the strip up to the light and visually evaluate. Remember the image is inverted – so it can be hard to decipher subjects and faces. A great tip is to use an iPad as a light source, hold the strip to the light source, then use your smartphone on inverted mode to view what the negative contains.
If you only have a small amount, and have access to a good quality flatbed scanner, then you can have a go at home. Be aware it can be a challenging process. A good scanner should also come with holders for all types of media, these aid in keeping the negative flat against the scan bed to reduce distortion.
Key tips for scanning are to wear gloves, make sure your scanner is as clean as possible, and use an air puffer to reduce dust on the negative.
Black and white print affixed to a scrapbook page with silvering in the dark parts of the print.
Photograph of unknown female performer, c.1900.
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.
Check for any signs of deterioration, older black and white photographs will have a degree of silvering in the dark parts of the image. This is normal as the silver contained in the print oxidizes over time. They will most likely have a curl and be reflective in places.
Also check for other types of damage, such as water damage, creasing and mould. These factors can cause the surface of the print to lift and turn to a powder-like substance.
If your print is damaged, printed on textured paper, too large, framed or for any other reason doesn’t work on a scanner, photographing the object with a camera in a flat position is the best way to proceed.
Photograph with print surface lifting.
Photograph of Will Quintrell with unnamed band members, c.1940.
Will Quintrell Collection, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.
A flatbed scanner is the best option for a flat, unframed, non-textured print as it will hold the print flat and create an image free from distortion.
There are some really great instruction sheets on how to photograph or scan a photograph or document.
Using a QP Card will enable you to colour correct your digital image. It is a good idea to use this during both methods of image capture. These cards create a set point for an editing program so that any colour casts can be removed.
Before and after digital colour correction, with QP Card.
Photograph album containing multiple photographs of Nancye Stewart and family, c.1910.
Mayne Lynton Collection, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.
Once your image is corrected, save it as your master file, we usually use the .TIF file format.
My advice that I would give is to keep your master file safe in a format that is widely supported and do all changes on a copy file.
From here you can make any changes you want in terms of cropping and damage repair, and send it to print.
Scrapbook relating to Nellie Stewart, compiled by Rita Hilton, c.1910.
Rita Hilton Collection, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.
Albums come in all shapes and sizes, from paper based albums with photos held in with photo corners, to scrapbooks with prints glued to the page, to magnetic albums from the early 80’s.
Before you start to do anything to an album, it is worth documenting it. Collect any text related to the prints and note any information about each page. In the Collection we photograph an album in its entirety prior to any conservation treatment or object removal as a master document and to track the life cycle of the object.
Surprisingly, the most difficult albums to deal with are magnetic albums with sticky glue backing covered with plastic sheet from the 1980s and 90s. This video is a great introduction to getting started with these sticky albums.
You can always photograph a print while it’s in the album, then reproduce the photograph without needing to remove the print and possibly disturb it.
I hope these useful tips help you successfully house and look after your precious finds, so that they last as long as possible and continue to bring joy to many people.
Assistant Registrar, Legacy Data Project, Collections
Australian Performing Arts Collection