Cold Storage / Preservation

Preserving Visual History

Written by Jessica Cebra, ICFA Departmental Assistant

Boxes of negatives awaiting proper labeling and double bagging.

Boxes of negatives awaiting proper labeling and wrapping…

The progression of the cold storage project has reached a special milestone. After many months of accessioning, inventorying, organizing, and other assessments of our photographic film-based collections, it is now time to implement long term preservation. After close review of the contents of hundreds of boxes, we’ve selected those that have thorough documentation and surrogates, either in print or digital form, to be properly wrapped and sealed away for cold storage in our freezers. A new box numbering system and descriptive labels will allow for future access; double bagging the boxes and monitoring their humidity levels will ensure the contents’ longevity.

Without cold storage the rate at which photographic film degrades increases. Film deterioration involves discoloration, fading, warping, crystallizing, developing odors, tacky emulsion, and brittleness. The dyes in color films are especially unstable. Keeping film in a temperature between 10 and 32 degrees fahrenheit maintains chemical stability and preserves the integrity of images. While temperature is important, the overall climate that the film lives in is crucial. Moisture levels should remain low and not fluctuate a lot. This is where our “wrapping parties” come in…

The ICFA team sealing boxes of negatives in the first layer of static shielding bags.

The ICFA team sealing boxes of negatives with a first layer of static shielding.

Our wrapping tools: labels, tape, scissors, bone folders, weights, and humidity indicator cards.

Our wrapping tools: labels, tape, scissors, bone folders, weights, and humidity indicator cards.

As a group, ICFA has commenced afternoon wrapping parties at the end of each week to expedite the double bagging and sealing of hundreds of boxes. Each box requires its own microclimate of consistent low temperature and low humidity, which can be provided by an airtight layer of static shielding, and a second layer of polyethylene protection. It takes about 20 minutes to complete the wrapping of one box, so the group effort is essential for our sizable film-based collections. So far, we’ve successfully wrapped over 80 boxes and film reels, and are now assessing what we can wrap next. While all of the wrapping and taping is reversible in order to access the contents again, we hope to avoid any need to break into the boxes in the near future, by making sure we only wrap physical contents that we have sufficient metadata for, and archival and access copies of.

Applying the second layer of polyethylene

Applying the second layer of polyethylene.

The lovely result of a successful wrapping party. The sealed boxes are returned to the freezer.

The lovely result of a successful wrapping party. The sealed boxes are returned to the freezer.

2 thoughts on “Preserving Visual History

  1. Pingback: Brenda Bernier Photograph and Preservation Workshop in ICFA | icfa

  2. Pingback: Undulating and Intertwined: A Catalog of Oxyrhynchos Sculpture by Josephine Harris | icfa

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