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Caring for Your Photography Collection

Photographs are a visual record of people and events, captured at one particular moment in time. To preserve these moments long into the future, one should follow a few simple rules for handling and storage.

Develop a method of cataloguing and identifying prints and negatives for future reference. Photos can be safely identified on the reverse and both photos and negatives can be identified on the enclosure with special film and print marking pens and pencils.

Handle all prints and negatives with anti-static gloves or cotton gloves to eliminate the possibility of damage from fingerprints or oils or of lint and dust clinging to the images.

Select the primary enclosure based on the usage. An image that will be handled often is better stored in a plastic enclosure for easy viewing. Use polyester, polypropylene, or polyethylene, which are all safe plastics for archival storage. Never store photos in vinyl.

An image that will not be referred to often should be stored in a paper enclosure for maximum protection against light. The most recent ISO standards advise storage of all types of photographs in buffered paper, although some archivists and curators prefer to use unbuffered materials for color prints, albumen prints, and cyanotypes. All paper enclosures should be acid-free and lignin-free.

Store photos in enclosures in sturdy, acid- and lignin-free boxes that match the size of the prints. When storing multiple sizes of prints together, put the largest photos on the bottom to avoid damaging smaller photos. To reduce cost and space usage, large photo collections can be stored without individual enclosures. Store those photos in boxes with interleaving paper, such as Permalife Bond Paper, between each photo.

Store photographs and negatives in a clean, cool, dark location that does not have extreme fluctuations in temperature or humidity.


For Further Reading:

See Section 2 of the Guide to Collections Care.