Life expectancy for analog negative

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous Equipment' started by Jim Chinn, Oct 5, 2005.

  1. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    We often hear the claims of archival longevity of digital images and data mediums. I am curious if there is any difinitive answer as to the longevity of a optimally processed and stored analog negative on modern polyester substrate. I would assume under proper storage it could be indefinetly. Any facts that support an actual length of time?
     
  2. Loose Gravel

    Loose Gravel Member

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    In one of those frozen vaults, it will last a looooooooooong time. Longer than needed. Longer than us and all those that follow. Remember, it's just a negative. At the rate photography sells, it seems to me that negatives are worthless and prints only slightly less so.

    Bad mood this morning.
     
  3. colrehogan

    colrehogan Member

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    Slightly OT...
    Unless people throw them away! :sad: I was watching a home organization show last night and one of the phrases used by the organizer was, "The negative isn't important, there are lots of places to get the print scanned." I wanted to scream at the tv.
     
  4. DKT

    DKT Member

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    here's a place to start. go to the IPI and I'm not sure where it is on their website now, but download the free report "IPI Guide to Acetate based Film Storage" for starters. This mainly about the mechanisms of vinegar syndrome and measures to be taken as far as archival management, but it also gets into polyester based support as well. Also, download the free program, the IPI "Preservation Calculator". This handy little thing extrapolates temp & humidity factors against accelerated estimates for film deterioration (again mainly acetate based, but it's handy for tracking humidity problems in association with mold and other factors).

    You can also but these in a guide book with a wheel for the calculator, and IPI has several other publications such as color slide longevity that deal with this as well. Some of these are for sale, some are free online. One such thing is the Climate Notebook study they run, with the interactive Stored Alive.

    Finally--the IPI has a seminar they give every year about managing photo collections. It's a week long and they address all sorts of issues and current research and methodology in terms of archiving. It's geared towards people working in the field, not photographers per-se, but I went to one of these at the smithsonian, and it was well worth the money.

    fwiw--the line of thinking in the place I work for has always been that the negatives (and microfilm) are the record for the most part (exception would be prints collected as artifacts, but that's another topic). The negatives trump all else. The prints made from the negatives might someday deteriorate, but you'd still have the master file and any duplicates as well. The prints are accessing these files, not the end all and be all...it's all about information--and that's a stumbling block for people who view prints as being the final product. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but negatives are important for the future. Nobody can really say what that will hold, but if you work in an archive or a museum, that's part of the job. To think otherwise it's just stupid--my opinions only of course.

    IPI:

    http://www.imagepermanenceinstitute.org/sub_pages/8contents.htm
     
  5. Joe Lipka

    Joe Lipka Member

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    Longer than you will care is the succinct answer. The problem is not how long they will last, but will your heirs want to keep them.
     
  6. Claire Senft

    Claire Senft Member

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    I do not know how long they will last but including selenium toning in your processing as well as Sistan will be helpful. Or course freezing will greatly prolong them.
     
  7. eric

    eric Member

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    They (Nat Geo) was able to print found glass plates from William Perry's expedition back in the 1980's. Now that was cool!
     
  8. KenM

    KenM Member

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    Wow, 25 years!!! :D

    I think you meant 1880.....
     
  9. eric

    eric Member

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    Yah, my Engrish isn't that good. 1880 was a little too early.


    Here's a rehash (where's my tech writer when I need him!)
    =======
    They (Nat Geo) was able to print found glass plates (found during 1980's) from William Perry's expedition in 1909. Now that was cool!
     
  10. Donald Qualls

    Donald Qualls Member

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    Lots of collodion glass plate negatives are still good from the 1850s, when they were invented, and a goodly number of Daguerreotypes from the 1840s as well. Some of Fox Talbot's earliest kallitype paper negatives have survived, from the 1830s (once Herschel showed him how to fix them to remove the unreacted silver chloride).

    So we can reasonably presume that a silver image can last, at a minimum, something like 200 years with so-so storage and no particular effort at conservation.

    There is reason to believe that sulfide toned silver images will last more than 500 years (given that they can be demonstrated to be several times as durable against environmental stresses as plain silver images).

    A polyester film base, protected from excessive heat and UV exposure, is likely to last a similar time -- 500 years or longer -- and the gelatin that carries the silver in modern films is similar to the connective material in leather, of which we have examples, still intact, dating back as much at 10,000 years. Likewise, cellulose paper can last at least 5000 years, as long as it's kept dry enough not to sustain mold growth. Acetate does a bit less well, and nitrate a lot less well, but even those can last a very long time if they're stored in conditions that don't encourage their inherent tendency to deteriorate.

    So, it's reasonable to expect that, simply stored in ordinary containers in living and storage spaces suited to other items we live with every day, silver image, sulfide or selenium toned negatives and prints can last several centuries without further human intervention (they might not, depending on a bunch of factors we don't control, like natural distasters, as well as some we do, like initial processing conditions, but the materials are at least capable of this longevity). Add to that the fact that the most cursory examination will show (to the naked eye) that they carry a picture, and these materials are at least a little less likely to wind up in a landfill than some things...
     
  11. Ryuji

    Ryuji Member

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    Triacetate films and polyester films are completely different animals when it comes to archival properties and problems with storage. The original questioner is asking about polyester, which is mainly used for sheet films, has nothing to do with vinegar syndrome. Roll films and 35mm films are usually triacetate film base, and these are a lot more sensitive to storage conditions. Inferior acetate bases are less than 3 acetates, more like 2.5 acetates, and those go faster.

    MANY early photographs are killed by poor handling and storage. It's just that the ones we see are the ones that survived. Many Dags are killed by the cleaning solution designed to remove the cloudiness (it's the solution of thiourea, invented in 1950s or 1960s) as well.

    Silver sulfide image is MANY times more durable than plain silver image in presence of environmental oxidants. I've run tests myself and ther eis the difference of night and day. When silver is faded to an unidentifiable degree, sulfided image is still clean and well identifiable.

    If you are really care about your work and archive, there is no room for casual talks here. Check with literatures and run necessary tests for your own.
     
  12. waynecrider

    waynecrider Member

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    Do a search on google for microfilm. The first page should bring up various sites and companies that are into microfilm and archival storage. Clicking on a couple of the the various pages you should find a history in the menu's of the archival abilites of different mediums thru time, and the problems with each, and how long they are expected to last under different storage conditions. I'm sure I read something about polyester. Interestingly, microfilm is the medium of choice for preservation and all important records are kept on it.
     
  13. fparnold

    fparnold Member

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    There's always the mechanical issues of preservation as well. AA mentions the charmed existance of his first Half-Dome picture on glass, in that it had somehow avoided being sat on over the years.

    For what little it's worth, in 25 years the only images I've had go away fell into one of three well-defined categories: on cheap RC from the early '80s, escaped their envelope and heavily scratched, and deliberately thrown away. I'm not planning on living forever, so I only really worry that certain images will be around as long as I am.
     
  14. gbroadbridge

    gbroadbridge Member

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    Well, I just printed from a negative that was generated in 1950 and even though this negative has been mistreated it's whole life (handled without gloves, handled by kids as part of the heirloom, smudged with finger grease, etc) it cleaned up okay using 50/50 propane/butane (isopropanol) followed by a wash in Kodak Photoflow.

    Whether polyester would do as well is yet to be ddecided.

    Original Neg is 6x8 printed 6x6 on Ilford MGIV paper and looks pretty good.

    Graham.
     
  15. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    I guess I never mentioned the reason for the question!


    A friends daughter has an addtion going up at her school and they are going to put in a time capsule to be opened in 100 years. They are including CDs and DVDs with all kinds of images and data as well as artifacts and regular photos etc. I have been trying to convince him that including that kind of digital media may well result in unretrievable images in 100 years but there will always be a way to either print negatives or scan them with what would be current technology in 2105.

    I argued that with even a minimum of common sense towards storage, a properly processed silver negative would last hundreds of years. I don't know about color negatives but know first hand how badly transparencies (Kodachrome) can fade in just 40 years although i suppose there exists strict storage protocols to help longevity of color emulsions.

    Anyway, thanks for the replies. I would be curious if anyone knows longevity of color emulsions?
     
  16. Ryuji

    Ryuji Member

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    In order to make that sentence a correct one, you have to substitute "properly processed" with "properly processed and stored." Proper processing alone is no assurance of good permanence.

    I would not put films and prints in a time capsule unless it is constructed with inert and impearmeable material like glass, and it is sealed. Even so, if you put roll films (35mm, 120, 220, etc.) they are most likely killed during storage unless you keep sending fresh air and removing old air. That is, roll films should not be stored in sealed space. Sheet films of polyester base are ok in sealed space.

    Color is more tricky, because of the stability of dye image. Some dyes require oxygen from air for them to be stable. Plus, long term storage for color material is usually at refrigeration temperature. (Incidentally, dyes used in post-1980 color films are significantly more stable than older ones, and they are sufficiently different from ones you had in your 40 years old Kodachrome.)

    You should hire an image archiving expert on this issue. It most likely involves selection of the right time capsule and selection of suitable films for that particualr condition. This is not an issue that you want to rely on amateur commentaries from strangers.
     
  17. Charles Webb

    Charles Webb Member

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    Much I don't know about this topic, but I can say that much or many of the original transparancy images I made for various magazine back in the fifties no longer survive. These were done with 4x5 Kodachrome, Ansco and the early Ektachromes. The Agfa films I used then were the first to go into an amber shift, then year by year the others followed suit. The were stored in a cool dark area with very little temp fluctuation and completely dry. All of the color work of other studio photographers I knew in the 1940's is now yellow amber. I have literally thousands of 35mm transparancioes that that are so faded it is difficult to identify them. So my thoughts are that Kodak when the made the statement on their color product " Colors may be fugitive" was a good one. My black and white negatives starting in 1945 seem to be as good today as they were when I removed them from the developer. My B&W prints going that far back have survived very well. All of my exposed and processed film was stored under the exact same conditions. I quit doing color weddings in the late 1960's because I could not guarantee them to be archival for a week, let alone 100 years. All of the commercial color work I have done since the mid 1970's has been strictly for catalog or other publications use in advertising and printing. I have done little or no color work that needed to be archival.
     
  18. htmlguru4242

    htmlguru4242 Member

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    I have some prints from the late 1920s and 1930s that are still in perfect condition, aside from some yellowing of the paper. I also have a few hundred 120 negatives from the 30's, 40's and 50s that are a little brittle, but still have excellent image. However, the early color prints (50s and 60s) along with them, in addition to early Kodachrome movie films, have faded badly (to contrast with this, a B&W movie reel that I have from 1930 is still in playable shape ... the images very well could have been shot last year, they look so good).
     
  19. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    I do have some first hand knowledge. I did print some images for someone from negatives he aquired at an estate sale a couple of years ago. They had been stored in a cigar box at the bottom of a chest of drawers for who knows how many years. The negatives date from between 1915-1920. They had some dimpling from being tightly stacked with some other papers but they still printed very well despite being slightly underexposed.
     
  20. Ryuji

    Ryuji Member

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    Those are only anecdotal and nothing like systematic knowledge, which is needed if you want to consider all sorts of possible problems and manage the risk of losing the images.