Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I had the pleasure last week of attending the meeting of the Society of North Carolina Archivists last week at Duke University.

I attended an all-day session led by Stephen Fletcher of UNC Chapel Hill to learn about preserving photographs in archival collections. To preserve them, one must first know what kind of photograph one has. Especially in the nineteenth century there were a variety of types, all using different chemical processes. Each one breaks down in its own way and so requires its own preservation strategy. The whole morning was given over to a quick review of photographic history with examples of daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, cartes de visites, early Kodak snapshots, and early experiments in color to name a few. I found the historical part fascinating and the technical challenge of conservation daunting. Photographs and prints require cool temps and low humidity, both maintained constantly. Color photographs, I leanred, keep best at temperatures below freezing.

I and another participant in the session carried on the discussion over wine and snacks at the reception following. Stephen Fletcher did not regard digitization as a form of preservation. My interlocutor, a small businessperson who digitized images for a living, maintained that advances in scanning technology had made it possible to scan a negative without losing any information. The digital version could even be used to print a new negative if necessary. Is it preservation to lift off the information perfectly or is something lost if you can't handle the material that the original photographer handled?



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