Editor's Notes

Editor's Notes

The issues surrounding the archival keeping qualities of photographic materials have always dogged us. During the development of the photographic process in the 19th century the problem was not capturing a moment but keeping it from fading once it was again exposed to light when viewed. Only when "hypo" was discovered could the undeveloped silver halides be removed from the light sensitive emulsion, making the image somewhat impervious to further deterioration. That discovery made photography possible. But other matters contributed to the keeping problems with photographs--the tarnishing of silver, the fading of dyes used in creating color, the poor base support materials, and the increasing effects of pollution, which attack both paper and image layers in the print. Indeed, even high temperature and humidity became a storage issue, as did the album pages and containers in which photographs were held, which could emit harmful gases.

While some black and white photographs have withstood the test of time, color has its own particular issues. Anyone who used color film in the 1950s, '60s, and even the '70s knows what this is about. Of all the color slide films only Kodachromes seem to have done well, given they were stored properly. My father made photographs of my older brother in the early '50s on Kodachrome 4x5, and they still hold color and density as if they just came out of the lab. The same goes for black and white prints on fiber paper I made in the early '70s. I was a stickler then (and now) about archival processing procedures, and those extra steps have paid off.

Now nothing lasts forever, but at least I'd like photographs I have made in my lifetime to last as long as I do, whatever the good Lord figures that out to be. But sadly, that's not the case. We have seen some major improvements and awareness about archival quality materials from manufacturers, and that's good and has resulted in some amazingly durable films and papers. The same goes for storage materials, and today we have a number of firms offering nothing but archival quality albums, pages, boxes, and slide storage pages. But the fact remains that many of the images made in the not too distant past will fade and disappear, many before we even have a chance to relive those memories in our old age.

Along comes digital and a whole new set of problems...and solutions. On the good side, digital can help us rescue old photos with ease. Get yourself a scanner, some Applied Science Fiction (now Kodak) software in the scanner for removing minor cracks and surface defects and restoring color, and you can get all those old photos out and spend a few weekends making the old photos new again. In the old days you'd have to set up a copy stand or send the work out to an expensive studio for copy and restoration work.

On the bad side, the archival side of digital is a still an open question. How long do CDs last? What about DVDs? Are all digital printers and ink and paper combinations equal? Will your back-up systems be able to be read 20 years from now? These are issues we'll be exploring in the months ahead.

Which brings us to what I consider a very important article in this month's issue, our interview with Henry Wilhelm on digital print archival quality. Wilhelm is considered one of the top people in the field of archival and conservation research. His efforts have opened many eyes into what has to be done to ensure that our precious memories are available for those who come after us. He is a true friend to photographers and everyone who values the image. I encourage you to read the article and to visit Wilhelm's website at www.wilhelm-research.com.


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