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History, Conservation, and Repair The history of photographic prints, and how best to care for and repair them.

Best cleaning and storage of old negatives

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Old 10-13-2008, 11:55 PM
Goodwin17 Goodwin17 is offline
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Question Best cleaning and storage of old negatives

I have inherited a large collection of negatives from my grandparents. Some date back as far as the early 1900's, with a lot in the teen's and 20's. I also have quiet a few from the early 50's. I am wondering what is the best way to store these? Would it be in individual envelopes? I have looked at catalogs before from different archival companies, but the choices are staggering. Also some of the really old negatives have old mildew spots on them. I am wondering what would be the safest way to clean them. Thanks for any help anyone can give me. I am the family's historian/preservationist.
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Old 10-14-2008, 06:38 AM
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Dave.Cox Dave.Cox is offline
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Re: Best cleaning and storage of old negatives

The best thing that you can do, is get them scanned and preserved digitally. No matter how you store them, the inks will continue to fade and degrade. Once the images are scanned in, you can retouch, enhance, clean, or whatever digitally, without the worry about destroying the original.
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Old 10-14-2008, 09:27 AM
Mike Mike is offline
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Re: Best cleaning and storage of old negatives

Dave, there is not much ink in old negatives!

That said, I agree, scan them first before doing anything else to them. Then make multiple copies and store the copies in multiple locations, that seems to be the current thinking.

For the originals,storing them in individual acid free envelopes would be best.

As for the mildew, I would find someone who specializes in that kind of work and get an opinion (and maybe a bid?) on how to fix the problem.
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Old 10-14-2008, 09:34 AM
Old Canoeist Old Canoeist is offline
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Re: Best cleaning and storage of old negatives


If you are game to try mold removal yourself here is a link to some info.

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Old 10-14-2008, 12:37 PM
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Sweetlight Sweetlight is offline
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Re: Best cleaning and storage of old negatives

Everyone gave you great advice but I am adding a bit more hoping it will help. I have a huge collection of old B/W Negs, C-41 color negs, E-6 slides and Kodachrome slides. I also still do quite a bit of B\W shooting and you can often find me shooting personal stuff as well as some ad work for some of my trendier clients with the aid of my Holga.

For those old negatives that you have been storing this is what I would suggest for you to help preserve those images forever and ever amen.
#1) The digital scan is a must and will save the day if something tragic should happen with your negatives. I am an avid outdoorsman, shooter and fisherman. I own four browning gun safes. They are heavily weighted and bolted to the concrete floor in one of my big walk-in closets. They are fireproof, tamper proof and although I paid tooooooooooo much money for them, they are just beautiful sitting there taking such good care of so many memories. One holds all of my long guns. some of them bought by me and some of them fine antiques left by my father and grandfather. The second one holds my more expensive Penn Senator Reels, Orvis Fly Reels and any antique reels and lures left to me. The third one holds the majority of my highest price camera bodies including my Alpina 4x5's and 8x10's. All of my Hasselblad systems and once again any antiques. Last but not least of the safes holds all of my old negatives and slides as well as one copy of all the cd's and dvd copies that I have burned as back ups. I also have a second set of copies held in a security box at the post office. (It's okay, you can say it. The medication only makes me a bit more organized when my obsessive compulsive behavior kicks in good.

Now before you go buy your safe, let's first learn how to prepare your old exposed film of any kind so we can lock it up in your beautiful new safe when you get it. Any of the products that I mention that you might need can either be found at Light (For any type of archival storage and such). The second site is the Photographers Formulary where you can find any type of chemicals, old or new, including Van Dyke processes, Cyanotype chemicals and anything of the like.

Now, let’s get your film ready to store.
First thing I would do if I were you is a good long (maybe an hour) water bath so we can soften up the gelatin and emulsion of the film. If you find chunks of mold or anything that is obviously a chunk of something that does not belong, once the emulsion is wet and softening you can careful remove it using a nice, soft Q-Tip or any other safe tool you find. Once the film has washed long enough to please you, the next thing you might want to consider is refixing your film. Most likely any color film will not need this because it was I am sure, processed in a machine and the fixing process was stable and done for an adequate time. The black and white on the other hand you can refix with a Kodak film fixer just like the type you used when you first fixed it. Complete the process per instructions just as it were the first time. The only instruction you need not follow is going dark. You can work with the lights on and if you are getting up there and your eyes are getting as tired as mine you will appreciate not having to go dark, it is not quite as easy as it once was. Once you have re-fixed the film for the recommended time in the instructions let's do a long water bath once again until we are sure the fixer is gone and you can no longer feel the slimy, smelly stuff. The next bath will contain (if you don't remember) a product still available online or at most photo stores called Photo Flow. Use it as recommended and dry the film in the way that you have always trusted, most likely by hanging in the least dusty room you have available, a drying cabinet would be great if you still have one. I actually made me one using a shower curtain and a round ring at the top to hold it in place.
Once they are completely dry now you need to decide what kind of storing mechanism you want to use. There are tons of different ideas available after all these years so you can go with something new if you choose. I prefer and still use glassine sleeves that come in any size and are in Light Impressions catalog. I then store the sleeved film in archival storage boxes. The boxes then go in the storage safe and the room is kept cool and clean. I also buy a box full of silica packets that I put in the safe. They do a good job of soaking up any humidity or moisture. I hope I have no burdened you with all this info and I hope you found something in here that is useful. Please feel free to contact me at anytime you choose for any questions you may have. Here is my personal email. -----
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Old 12-02-2008, 11:24 AM
nu2n65 nu2n65 is offline
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Re: Best cleaning and storage of old negatives

Hey, everyone, this is great. I just bought a negative scanner and was wondering about how to clean some old negatives that have gotten dirty (though they're not as old as in the original thread). Thank you for all the advice.
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Old 03-09-2009, 03:50 PM
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Southbay Southbay is offline
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Re: Best cleaning and storage of old negatives

Originally Posted by nu2n65 View Post
(though they're not as old as in the original thread)
For newer negs, I simply use PEC-12 archival photographic emulsion cleaner.
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Old 03-24-2009, 07:33 AM
ftp-Jeff ftp-Jeff is offline
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Re: Best cleaning and storage of old negatives

Newish negs.... use Croxtine and a selvat cloth.

Old negs, if you wash them, add some photo-flo to the water.
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