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Posted by portugalpress on June 22, 2017
How not to store your photos
Photographs fade with time
Our slide show
Precious family photographs

I have always loved taking photographs and since I was 16 years old I have carried a camera around which has provided me with wonderful photographic memories of my life.

Back then a few photographs were taken at a time, as films were relatively expensive to buy and develop. It was always exciting to receive the prints from developers although some developed photographs were no good as shots could not be previewed.

Nowadays we all carry cameras and, thanks to digital ones, we end up with hundreds of good pictures from a single event. Rarely are actual prints developed. Saving the photographs on the computer, pen or external disc (or all three to ensure they do not get accidentally deleted) does not afford the same excitement as sharing around a photograph album.

Digital cameras became popular in 2005, transforming photography and changing social behaviour. I was amused to discover that the first digital camera was almost the size of a coffee machine. It was invented by Steven Sasson for Kodak in 1975.

For professional photographers, digital cameras allow for the taking of hundreds of shots without any cost or consequence. In 2000, Samsung developed the first telephone with a camera with people questioning at the time why anyone would want a camera in their telephone!

Smartphones further revolutionised photography and are now used to capture major events and news stories. However, a drawback of digital photography is the bombardment on social media of subject matter that would otherwise never be photographed – such as people’s breakfast!

We are lucky to have the technology to save, relive and share our memories, but cameras can interfere in the enjoyment of events as the constant posing for photographs or filming through a small viewfinder sidetracks the photographer from the live action. There is more pressure now to record everything, but hundreds of raised arms filming at concerts rather spoil the moment!

Did you know that the word ‘photography’ derives from the Greek photos (light) and graphein (to draw). Photography began in the 1700s when basic techniques for darkening silver salts was developed to record an image through the action of light on the light-sensitive material. Yet it was only in the 19th century that photography became popular, particularly with war correspondents, newspapers and the wealthy.

The first type of commercial photograph was the Daguerreotype, produced in 1839, a one-off picture, usually a portrait, that could not be reproduced. Copper plates with a silver layer polished like a mirror were exposed to light, fumed with mercury vapor and housed in wooden cases as they were very fragile. Used until the mid-1850s they were replaced by Ambrotypes.

Ambrotypes, also stored in cases, were negatives placed on glass against a black background to make them a positive image. These too were superseded by Tintype photographs printed on thin black-lacquered iron.

The reduced costs of these two types of photographs made them more accessible with people having their photograph taken in fairs or in the street.

In 1859, cartes de visite (CdVs) were introduced which were thin paper mounted on card and it became popular to collect CdVs of prominent people. By the early 1900s, real photo postcards were developed as the postcards that we know today.

Kodak’s introduction of the Brownie camera in 1900 made snapshots popular allowing people to take their own photographs and colour photography became widespread in the 1960s.

Available online, at boot fairs and antique markets, vintage photographs are highly collectible, but it is best to collect them for their images rather than as an investment, although you might get lucky!

In 2011, a California collector bought an old picture for two dollars. The photograph showed a group of men playing croquet in the 19th century America and an investigation identified the outlaw Billy the Kid and his gang thus making the photograph now worth millions!

Like many people, we have old family photographs inherited from grandparents. Sadly, in our case, many are not labeled so we have little idea of where they were taken or who the people are.

We also have a box full of slides! Slides first came into use in the 1950s and are a positive image on a transparent base, known as diapositives, mounted in cardboard or plastic cases to be viewed through a projector or a slide viewer. People opted to have them instead of prints and negatives. It was also possible to buy them as souvenirs of holiday places.

We loved my grandparents’ slideshows with the images projected onto the lounge wall and I recently bought a viewer in a charity shop that has enabled us to view them again having been stored for nearly 30 years.

Family photographs are a source of historical and genealogical information, heirlooms to be treasured, linking us to past and future generations. However, few people store them properly and already ours are fading. Photographs should be protected from heat, damp, dust, bugs and overexposure to light as all cause damage.

Albums should have acid and lignin-free paper dividers rather than plastic PVC sleeves which cause the photographs to stick and deteriorate. If plastic is used, it should be polypropylene. Never store negatives in plastic wallets and handle them carefully as they can produce acidic gases as they age – mine are in my wardrobe!

Old photographs should never be behind glass but rather behind ultraviolet-filtering acrylic sheets or instead copies of the photograph should be displayed.

When my children were born (pre-digital cameras), I vowed to write on every photograph the names, place and date but, with the large number of prints taken, this soon lapsed. Only use felt tips or labels to identify photographs as ball-point pens are damaging.

Ideally we should all use specially designed archival boxes, storing photographs flat with paper dividers and checking them periodically for dust and insects. Equally, 100% cotton gloves should be worn when handling photographs.

In the long term, precious photographs should be digitalised, which in my case would take forever as I have so many prints to scan and I already have thousands of digital photographs stored. I also worry about future retrieval of the photographs when technology changes!

In the meantime, I will continue to take thousands of photographs and will try to follow my own advice above for their preservation as my old photographs are currently in the wrong type of album or chucked in six plastic drawers!

So now you know!

By Isobel Costa
Isobel Costa works full time and lives on a farm with a variety of pet animals! In her spare time, she enjoys photography, researching and writing.



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