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Collections Keeper of Photographs

Conservation of photo negatives

When I’m looking for images in the negative collection, occasionally I come across one that requires immediate attention. This could be for a variety of reasons; in this case remedy is required for an early attempt at what we would now do using image manipulation software like Photoshop. 

This glassine enclosure has a set of four negatives that have been taped together so a compilation image could be printed. The tape is the red opaque type, which when printed, won’t allow any light through, thus creating a white space on the resulting print. This set of photos were taken in December 1972 and since being printed, have probably never been looked at again.  

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This shows the original glassine enclosure as it was stored for 46 years. Near the top left and middle right side can be seen where the adhesive residues have affected the outside. These can migrate and cause problems to adjacent enclosures.

The problem is that in the following 46 years the adhesive has dried, making the whole grouping fragile and unable to be kept in the original format. Adhesives can stain negatives and there is a possibility that one of the negatives will become detached and misplaced.

Photo negative conservation

When the negatives were removed from the enclosure, the tape stuck to the inside and had released from other parts, resulting in many separate pieces to deal with.

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Cleaning is done with a cotton bud. At left can be seen the red stain from the adhesive and at top right are small dried lumps of tape and adhesive together. Specific cleaning product is deliberately omitted because the wrong cleaning agent can destroy the image. Consult a professional if you want to clean a negative. 

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Each individual negative has its own four-flap enclosure with the reference number on the outside. They are then returned to their original place in the series of RNZAF Official negatives. The original information and date from the title block and negative register will be retained in the file metadata. Finally, the individual negatives are housed in acid-free archival enclosures.  

With modern digital technology, this negative will never be printed in a darkroom again, so to retain the original imagery, while rectifying the preservation issues, these four negatives have been separated, cleaned and scanned individually.

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