American cartoon artist and creator of the Pogo comic strip creator, Walt Kelly made these words famous after mixing some humor, satire and a dose of politics into a cartoon that appeared on Earth Day in 1971.
Handling and Examining Photographs
Since that time, these infamous words have become synonymous with issues brought on by man’s own doing. For instance, the National Media Museum in Bradford, West Yorkshire, UK opens their information sheet on Handling and Examining Photographs this way...
"The biggest threat to the well being of photographs is.... you! Most damage (especially to more fragile supports such as glass and paper) has occurred through human negligence or ignorance. Even the best and most sophisticated conservation
equipment and supplies can count for naught if there are basic flaws in the way the material is handled, especially as there will be a need to handle the original artifacts for a whole variety of reasons, from aesthetic appreciation through educational enlightenment to scientific analysis."
Rules to Live and Work By
Professionals involved in handling photographs as part of their daily routine have developed a set of practical guidelines to which should dealing with printed photographs should follow. The National Archives, located in Washington, D.C., offers a number of advisories on handling the various archives, including photographs, housed within its collections [http://www.archives.gov/great-lakes/archives/use.html#handling | http://www.archives.gov/preservation/technical/vendor-training.html]. They also provide an extensive network of online information in caring for family archives that includes a lot about photographs.
Here are some basics suggested by the National Media Museum:
1. Work only in designated areas
2. Eating, drinking and smoking is prohibited in the work area
3. Gloves must always be used when handling photographic images, and the surface of the image should never be touched by bare hand, ruler, or other object
4. Always use the correct tools to pick up an image and always hold or support the image/matte in both hands
5. Outsized, large, delicate or damaged images should always be cradled by an auxiliary support
6. Always keep photographs face up and handle them one at a time
7. Stack photographs carefully and never slide them from one stack to another; to remove any interleaving tissue, lift the photograph up and remove it; never drag it across the photograph
8. Never stack glass plates on top of each other
9. Never try to force two photographs apart
10. Never allow pens or markers into the work space
Recommendations to Photographers and Caretakers of Photographs
The attitude that one approaches the handling and care of photographs has a tremendous amount to do with the practices used in protecting them. Whether being entrusted with a client’s photographs for a short period of time in order to perform digitization service, or entering into a long term preservation stewardship arrangement, it is important to be aggressive in promoting the prevention of print damage due to improper storage, handling, or display practices.
Carol Bower wrote a detailed chapter about the handling, presentation, and conservation matting of photographs in the book, The Permanence and Care of Color Photographs. In her interviews regarding causes and prevention for damages to printed photos, ignorance was cited as the number one potential threat after improper processing and storage.
The issue of lack of understanding is probably not any more noticeable than in the area of handling photographs. The article; Misconceptions about White Gloves printed more than a half-dozen years ago in International Preservation News has been cited erroneously as making a legitimate case for not wearing gloves when handling photos. However, the authors of the article clearly meant to address paper document handling only in their analysis. In fact, this disclaimer can be found in the article’s introduction; “The authors acknowledge that other media types, including photographic prints, negatives, and slides, as well as three-dimensional objects (especially those manufactured from tarnishing metals), have specific handling issues most appropriately addressed by specialists within those individual fields.”
It is Up To Us!
As Artist Peter Wilsey once pointed out, “In Leonardo’s case, he probably didn’t know that people would still be amazed by The Last Supper 500 years after his death. . .[Also,] things which were created casually become important later on.”
It is up to all of us to learn, understand and remain good stewards of the photographic treasures entrusted us.
|Digital Directions is sponsored by E-Z Photo Scan where making digital preservation easy is our mission. Visit E-Z Photo Scan to learn more about the possibilities for achieving your digital preservation goals. E-Z Photo Scan is also part of the National Digital Stewardship Alliance and member of its Outreach Working Group.|