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  1. #1
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    Cleaning 1920's negatives and 50 year old slides

    I have ambarked upon the project of scanning my family's immense collection of slides and negatives. My family had a photography business in the 50's and 60's. I also have the negatives from my Grandmother's old Brownie or some such camera from the 20's. (Hundreds of them)
    I got am amazing scanner last week and its incredibly simple to use on these, but I need to clean them safely. Some of these slides have been out in my Dad's garage for the last 20 years and are covered in dust.
    Some of these slides and negatives may be very historically significant to our area. Please don't suggest taking the collection to an expert....it consists of over 10,000 items and the cost would be very prohibitive. If these aren't preserved soon, they will be lost forever.
    Help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



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    I know how you feel: I've been doing the same thing since going digital 5 years ago. Still got more than half the family's photo archive to go. Starting with prints from the 1860's and -70's... And every month photos are still being found in deep drawers and albums that need to be preserved too. I'm afraid it will take me another 5 years at least (if I ever get finished...).

    As far as I know there is no short-cut. It is very time consuming. This is 'manual labor' in the 21st century... Already spent hundreds of hours on it. And probably will have spent thousands by the time I finish.
    I regard it as my contribution to the family history.

    Tip:
    if you archive on DVD you need to be aware that DVD's are an UNstable storage medium! It's neccessary to burn brandnew copies on brandnew DVD's every 2 years (then trash the old ones). Because tests in its short life's history have already shown that the plastics of many DVD disks react chemically to one another, so that eventually the DVD will become unreadable (some even as soon as after only 3 years!).
    Obviously you need to burn a new one well before that happens.
    Let's keep our fingers crossed "they" will develop another storage medium soon that IS stable so that we can stop having to re-burn/replace our DVD archives every 2 years.

    So hang in there, Lyman!
    Last edited by W.Smith; 11-13-2006 at 06:40 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lyman Smith
    I have ambarked upon the project of scanning my family's immense collection of slides and negatives. My family had a photography business in the 50's and 60's. I also have the negatives from my Grandmother's old Brownie or some such camera from the 20's. (Hundreds of them)
    I got am amazing scanner last week and its incredibly simple to use on these, but I need to clean them safely. Some of these slides have been out in my Dad's garage for the last 20 years and are covered in dust.
    Some of these slides and negatives may be very historically significant to our area. Please don't suggest taking the collection to an expert....it consists of over 10,000 items and the cost would be very prohibitive. If these aren't preserved soon, they will be lost forever.
    Help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    First, I'm assuming you've gathered them all together and they are inside, out of excessive humidity, etc. That's the first part.

    You are indeed looking at a labor of love. Get yourself some canned air and perhaps a soft sable brush. Many of these slides might be just fine after a quick spraying on either side (be careful not to shake canned air!). If you can line several of them up on a table, you might be able to move along with some speed, maybe a few dozen at a time, front and back. Once you're ready to scan, take another look to see if touch-up is needed.

    For negatives, handle with great care, but try the same approach of a simple spraying with canned air, or a very gentle brushing off with the sable brush. If any are very stubborn, you might have to get a product like Film Kleen and use sparingly. Once cleaned, I'd invest in archival negative sleeves and store them in boxes. If the time comes where they need to be re-scanned (or who knows, a budding photographer in your family might want to make enlargements some day!) they will be safe for decades.

    No need to rush this project, just settle in and take great pleasure in being the one who gets to preserve your family's history like this.

    Have fun.

    Beaten Path Photography


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    3) Recognize that if you're not part of the solution, you're likely part of the problem - whatever you perceive it to be.

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    If you still have old, printable negatives, they are probably not much older than 50/60 years. Because the physical material of most negatives as well as of 8mm, 16mm, and 35mm 'movie' film chemically degrades over time. It will become brittle, stiff, and breakable. Eventually the negatives (and films) will disintegrate into dust. Literally. So don't count on simply cleaning and archiving them if you want to preserve them! They will be gone within a few decades if you do only that! So, for posterity, they must be digitized! And the digital copy renewed every 2 years...

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    I certainly don't dispute digitizing them, but a properly cleaned, archivally stored negative still has a few centuries left to it. Make the effort to clean and preserve them, and you'll only need to do that once. I also agree you'll need to keep after those digital files every couple of years.

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    Quote Originally Posted by terri
    I certainly don't dispute digitizing them, but a properly cleaned, archivally stored negative still has a few centuries left to it.
    "centuries"....?
    Dream on! 60 to 100 years tops! (IF you're lucky!).
    Read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film_preservation.

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    Quote Originally Posted by W.Smith
    "centuries"....?
    Dream on! 60 to 100 years tops! (IF you're lucky!).
    Read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film_preservation.
    uh...I'm not talking about "movies of the first half of the 20th century". Neither is the OP, from what I could gather. If we're not talking about nitrate based negs, then you're good to go for centuries, yes.

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    If it were my project, I would simply wash the negs in an appropriate tank, photo-flo them and hang them up to dry. The mounted transparencies should just be blown dry with canned air. Whatever you can't get off will be fodder for the PS spot healing tool.
    Fred

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    Quote Originally Posted by terri
    uh...I'm not talking about "movies of the first half of the 20th century". Neither is the OP, from what I could gather. If we're not talking about nitrate based negs, then you're good to go for centuries, yes.
    Nitrate based negs – "celluloid" – was used in virtually all photo and movie films until well into the seventies of the last century. So if you've got 30 year old negs, or older, you can simply wait for their disappearing act. It's inevitable.
    Last edited by W.Smith; 11-13-2006 at 09:17 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by terri
    uh...I'm not talking about "movies of the first half of the 20th century". Neither is the OP, from what I could gather.
    Read the OP again then. It says "[...] my family's immense collection of slides and negatives. My family had a photography business in the 50's and 60's. I also have the negatives from my Grandmother's old Brownie or some such camera from the 20's. (Hundreds of them) [...]".
    In other words he has an "immense collection" that's about 50 years old, and "hundreds" that are almost 90 years old.
    And all of those will disappear/disintegrate within the OP's lifetime!

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    Nitrate based negs "celluloid" was used in virtually all photo and movie films until well into the seventies of the last century.
    Simply not accurate. Not all film bases were nitrate. It behooved film manufacturers to find bases that weren't so unstable. From 1947 on triacetate based films were in wide use, and those have the staying power. And happily for Lyman, there is an easy way to tell, for nitrate based films will show a yellowish tinge. The negatives from the '50's and '60's, if well processed, and triacetate based, will probably last a couple centuries with no significant change. Virtually all modern cut films are polyester based and will last indefnitely with proper care and storage.

    One more thing about digital files, Lyman: you might want to send those files around to various family members in case yours got lost. There is safety in redundancy!

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    Quote Originally Posted by terri
    [...] The negatives from the '50's and '60's, if well processed, and [if] triacetate based, will probably last a couple centuries with no significant change. [...]
    Two consecutive if's. That doesn't make for good odds. Ask any blackjack player.
    [...] One more thing about digital files, Lyman: you might want to send those files around to various family members in case yours got lost. There is safety in redundancy!
    Amen!
    Last edited by W.Smith; 11-13-2006 at 10:24 AM.

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    Thank you for all the input. My grandmother's negatives have been surprisingly well kept and about 10 years ago, when I found someone who would still print about 20 of them, was pleasently surprised with the quality of the photograph produced from a 1928 negative.

    The idea about the canned air is excellent. Is there a safe liquid cleaner I could clean them with gently using a q-tip perhaps, then maybe follow up with the canned air?

    I will be sending other members of the family the discs produced and after the cleaning process, scanning and storing them in airtight plastic containers in a dust free, dark environment.

    Thanks for the help...any other tips?
    And by the way, I am female, Lyman is typically a man's name, I was named for my Grandfather. My mother thought it would go well with Smith...LOL
    L.

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    I think I'd avoid Q-tips. I've noted that cotton scratches delicate things. They say, I think, Camel hair brushes work well for that sort of work (Terri, check me on this). Also, I've found that tape backups tend to last a long time if accessed infrequently. You might want to consider that as an option; it's a bit expensive, and you need to keep them away from magnetic fields, but they work well and store a lot. You might try backing them up to several different types of media, as well, just in case.

    W.Smith, why would you suppose that film processed by a business would be substandard?
    Last edited by JamesD; 11-13-2006 at 09:46 PM.
    Black & white in silver gelatin emulsions.
    Linux users do it with The Gimp.
    Yes, I love my Argoflex.

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    ooo, I'd have to agree with James - don't use Q-tips on negatives, especially wet negatives! They may feel soft to you but wet emulsion thinks they're sandpaper. In fact, just about anything touching a wet emulsion is bad news!

    A camel hair brush, James? What did I say up there, sable? I have a few small sable artist's brushes that have done well on dry negs, so I trust it. Camel hair might be very similar. I rarely have a negative that needs much beyond a shot of canned air or a touch of Film Kleen (which is used sparingly on a dry negative).

    Lyman - try simple canned air first, before you think about wetting the negs. It might be all you need.

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    3) Recognize that if you're not part of the solution, you're likely part of the problem - whatever you perceive it to be.

 

 
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