March 14, 2007

Where exactly should I store my photographs?

The safest place to store your cherished mementos is an interior closet with some form of climate control.

What do I mean by climate control? Well, archival repositories have very specific parameters for temperature and humidity* but let’s be practical (it is, after all, what I'm known for).

When I say climate control I mean a space that:

  • is air conditioned in the summer
  • is heated in the winter
  • and doesn’t feel noticeably damp.
Basements, attics and garages are terrible choices for several reasons:

1. High humidity encourages mold and mildew and increases the rate of deterioration.

2. Fluctuating humidity causes paper (including photographic prints) to swell and shrink. Each cycle causes stress, and years of it will cause photos to crack because the emulsion layer and the binder layer do not expand and contract to the same degree as the paper backing.

3. High temperature levels speed up the rate of chemical reactions, and lots of deterioration is caused by chemical reactions. Here’s a sobering thought: The rate of decay doubles with each increase in temperature of 18 degrees. Doubles! span>Keep your treasures out of the attic, folks.

4. Insects and pests are more common in basements, attics and garages. No only can they eat your treasures, the bigger (furrier) critters might use it for bedding or leave behind very unpleasant surprises. Ick.

One more tip: Never store your treasures in direct sunlight. UV rays will bleach out the color and fade text and images. Fortunately, two dimensional items like photographs and paper ephemera are easy to copy these days. Create a new copy for display and keep the original in the dark. Or use Plexiglas with an anti UV coating in your frames.

*For those of you who really want to know the numbers, here are the recommendations for most photographs: Temperature of 68 F and relative humidity of 30-40%. Now you know.


margrethe Schibig said...

I have a meeting with an interior designer to discuss the plans for our new family photo archive. Do you have any suggestions, or photos of samples of photo archives that I could see?

Sally J. said...

Margrethe, I don't have any samples to show, unfortunately. If you give me a better idea of how much you want to store I could point you toward some options. You can also contact me directly. Numbers and addresses are available here.