Real world life of FB prints

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by Tom Stanworth, Dec 20, 2004.

  1. Tom Stanworth

    Tom Stanworth Member

    Messages:
    2,027
    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2003
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    This is a really rubbish question which has been chewed over many times, but I get the impression that much of it is recycled info. Does anyone have any experience of owning 50-60 year old silver gelatin fibre prints? I would love to know how they have lasted VS the supposed standards to which they were processed.

    We have all heard that a a selenium toned print (archivally done) should last in excess of 100 years...is this in dark storage? The reality for those who hang the art in their homes is that they are going to be exposed to light (maybe without UV glass) and all sorts or airborne stuff (unless the frame is sealed 100%). Do people have examples of well processed images degrading after much less time or casually processed iamges lasting really well? Might selenium/gold/sepia toned prints last much longer than 100 years in perfect condition? The reason I ask is that Frank Meadow Suttcliffe's prints are over 150 years old now. They were heavy sepia prints and most to all have degraded, having to be extensively restored and in may cases redone using digital techniques they were so bad. Would this be the result of poor washing of prints etc or what should be expected of a real world print? Before his death, AA seemed to almost express surprise that some of his early prints had lasted so well.

    I have always been under the impression that the longest lasting are sepia prints if fully toned, but for those wanting a less sepia look, selenium for the shadows and sepia for the highlights would also ensure that the whole print is toned. Surely this would be far superior to partial selenium which has protective properties proportional to the extent of toning. Could agfa sistan be used as well? Would it matter or would the paper support degrade first?

    Rambling I know...

    Tom
     
  2. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

    Messages:
    4,518
    Joined:
    Nov 27, 2002
    Location:
    Ipswich, Mas
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Information on longevity is difficult, if not impossible to obtain.

    I use Agfa's Sistan. The only information I've been able to glean is, "In theory, it SHOULD work, but we have no objective evidence to determine if it actually does, and/or how effective it is."

    I remember an article in the late, lamented - SORELY missed, Camera and Darkroom, where someone tacked a few prints made on RC paper to the side of a building, acted on by sunlight UV, wind, rain, snow -- whatever weather... and after some YEARS reported that they lasted "Very well". I also remember Ctein's article - somewhere - saying that RC was more or less, a disaster, as far as longevity was concerned.

    All I can say is that I've been using RC ever since it WAS, and I'm completely satisfied with the way my first RC prints have survived.
     
  3. Maine-iac

    Maine-iac Member

    Messages:
    465
    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2004
    Location:
    Island Heigh
    Shooter:
    Med. Format RF
    I can only give personal testimony:

    Of the prints I made when first getting into photograpy 35 years ago (before there was RC paper), a few have turned brown but most are as good as when they were printed. I'm fairly certain that the brown ones were not processed properly. I didn't know from archival in those days. I probably used exhausted fixer, fixed for too long and washed for too short. Nor were my processes consisent. All that came in the learning process. The negs, however, are still good, so I can always re-make the prints if I ever choose to. Some of those prints were also stabilization prints, though I can't tell which from looking at them, and it's possible that the brown ones were made that way. Kodak never did claim archival properties for prints made with the stabilization process; they were a boon to journalists and others who had to meet deadlines. In my case, a college yearbook deadline.

    Whether those prints will still look good thirty years on from now is, of course, an open question. Theoretically, given proper processes and thorough washing, there's no reason B&W silver prints on a good fiber-based paper shouldn't last at least until the paper itself disintegrates, and as you say, that is largely dependent on storage conditions. If newspapers can survive in readable form at the bottom of landfills for 50 years, I have hope that my silver prints will be around for awhile longer.
     
  4. rbarker

    rbarker Member

    Messages:
    2,222
    Joined:
    Oct 31, 2004
    Location:
    Rio Rancho,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I have a fair number of family photos dating from the late 1800s through the 1940s (mostly drugstore-processed snaps), including a few professionally-done family portraits from the 1900-1920 period. Most of these are in like-new condition. Most, I'm sure, were "dark-stored" in decidedly non-archival boxes and under dubious conditions, but a few were also framed and displayed in my grandmother's home. I'm confident that none of these photos received anything more than "normal" processing, with little thought to their archival quality. So, the 100-year-plus estimate for properly-processed prints, particularly if toned, seems quite reasonable.
     
  5. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

    Messages:
    17,980
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Honolulu, Ha
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    There are plenty of 19th-century prints in museums and collections, not to mention other kinds of paper objects much older than that.
     
  6. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

    Messages:
    9,281
    Joined:
    Sep 9, 2002
    Location:
    Bergen, Norw
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    Judging from my wife's grandparent's wedding photo, which has been haning on a wall since 1923, they hold up very well indeed. I still find it a challenge even approaching that richness of tone and wonderful tonality.
     
  7. TPPhotog

    TPPhotog Member

    Messages:
    3,042
    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2004
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Tom, If I remember correctly from other threads the real problem we face is that the papers no longer exist in their original form. Therefore all the papers we use today be they RC or FB are only theoretically archival.

    Also of course the chemicals have changed over the years, so sadly we are as far as I'm aware only replying on probability rather than historic data.

    It's even possible that the claims that the latest digital prints having the longevity of our wet prints could even be true, given that data for them all is again projected.
     
  8. Deckled Edge

    Deckled Edge Member

    Messages:
    446
    Joined:
    Jan 25, 2004
    Location:
    Manhattan Be
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    Tom,
    Can't say that I own any old prints, but I will relate this story.
    In 1988 I attended an Ansel Adams Workshop in Yosemite, 4 years after the demise of The Great One. Jean Adams, Ansel's daughter-in-law was very hospitable to the attendees, and entertained about 10 of us in the Best Photographic Studio and home behind the present modern Ansel Adams Gallery. At one point she pointed out to me a chest of drawers and asked me to look inside. I complied, and there were about 100 mounted prints by Ansel, from the late '20s to early '40s--so about 45 to 60 years old. All were signed, and they were exquisite. Despite the humble storage, there was no mildew on the mattes, and I explored closely for stains, fading or signs of decomposition. They were perfect (and would fetch a fortune!). Ansel was famous for Selenium toning, and I expect these were all toned, though there was no obvious color shift to prove it. There was no record on the back of the mattes.
    Since that time I have been compulsive about Selenium toning for archival permanence. I don't know if the two-step process of Sepia toning confers more or less archival protection, but everything you have heard about Selenium is probably true.
    Certainly museum prints are free from degradation, but I relate the above story to show that prints stored for 40 years in a bureau can still be lovely if treated archivally.
     
  9. Flotsam

    Flotsam Member

    Messages:
    3,221
    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2002
    Location:
    S.E. New Yor
    I have FB prints that I made as a teenager, long before I'd heard the term "archival" (or at least applied it to my processing), that are 30 years old and look as if they were printed yesterday.

    My assumption is that a print that has been carefully processed and stored according to critical archival standards will far outlast the 70 or 80 year estimates
     
  10. Nick Zentena

    Nick Zentena Member

    Messages:
    4,677
    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2004
    Location:
    Italia
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Some thoughts. Partly looking at old prints is nothing more then looking at surviours. Think about that drawer full of Adam's prints. If every year somebody looked at them and threw out the bad ones then all you're looking at are the good ones. I've no idea if that happened but the theory applies to all prints. Unless a print has some sort of value to you you'll toss out any bad ones. It's hard to draw any conclusion from the ones left.

    Second thought is define "lasted". The standards will set some sort of limit. Maybe the print is allowed to fade X percent. Maybe some other limit. It may be the standard is higher/lower then your personal standard.
     
  11. Konical

    Konical Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,708
    Joined:
    Jun 1, 2003
    Good Afternoon,

    Slightly off the original topic, but related: For as long as I have been doing darkroom work, I've used Kodabrome RC paper for my contact sheets. When I started, I just followed the instructions about processing, although I was always a bit generous with my washing times. Only in the last several years have I started routinely using a 30-second Perma-Wash treatment for my RC stuff. My oldest contact sheets (mid 1970's) appear to be as good today as when they were first made. They've had no special storage; they're all just punched, put in ring binders along with the negatives, and kept at room temperature. A few stray RC prints from the same era (Kodak, Ilford, Agfa???) likewise show no deterioration. I follow good procedure with both RC and fiber and spend no time worrying about "shelf life." I'm sure I'll be long gone before my prints start to show any problems.

    Konical
     
  12. dancqu

    dancqu Member

    Messages:
    3,676
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Willamette V
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Ctein may have been speaking of the developer incorporated emulsions. Dan
     
  13. paul ron

    paul ron Member

    Messages:
    1,881
    Joined:
    Jan 22, 2004
    Location:
    NYC
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    BTW: What paper did Ansel print on?
     
  14. Sponsored Ad
  15. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

    Messages:
    8,003
    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2003
    Location:
    Milan
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    We (it is in my brother's possesion) have a family bible that contains photgraphs from as far back as the civil war. Some are not in great condition, mostly from the mounting glue and handling, but most of the images are good and in tact.
     
  16. eggshell

    eggshell Member

    Messages:
    155
    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2004
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    I noticed overall yellowing (no stain or patches) on the back of all my FB prints that were made 5-10 years. It's daunting to think what they would be like in 30 years. They were double-fix, selenium toned and thoroughly washed. All are stored in archival boxes and kept in a dry box under tropical temperature. The images are fine, so I reckon that this is a normal paper aging process (paper disintergration if you call it). Does everyone here face this situation? Is this acceptable in the name of archival quality?
     
  17. Peter Schrager

    Peter Schrager Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,099
    Joined:
    Jul 19, 2004
    Location:
    fairfield co
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    Prints

    I would tend to believe that your yellowing of the prints is due to improper fixation and or lack of long enough washing times. Of all my older prints done 25+ years ago there is only 1 print that went south on me. I have several prints done by Barbara Crane which I purchased in the early seventies and all are in fine condition. A photograph done by Dan Wiener in 1951 is still pristine so I would assume that this fits the 60+ year catagory. Simply put use Fiber Paper, fix twice, and tone in selenium or gold and the prints should last several lifetimes.
    Regards Peter
     
  18. Bob Carnie

    Bob Carnie Subscriber

    Messages:
    5,481
    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2004
    Location:
    Toronto-Onta
    Shooter:
    Med. Format RF
    I agree with Peter, fix twice, hypoclear and wash properly and tone.
    I was at my Dad's house last night and he has a print hanging in a hallway that I gave him in 1975. I know that at school I did not double fix, wash and tone properly, This print is still in wonderful shape, with not hint of problems.

    that would make it 30years old and still running. (by the way , it was a fibre print)
     
  19. jovo

    jovo Membership Council Council

    Messages:
    4,124
    Joined:
    Feb 8, 2004
    Location:
    Jacksonville
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I have a few of my dad's prints made in the 40's and early 50's that are still in superb condition. I've no idea what steps he took to insure longevity...probably whatever was in vogue at the time... but whatever it was, it worked. The prints are warm toned on a beautiful fiber paper...(probably ectalure or some other long since discontinued stock).

    Additionaly, much older family photographs are still extant from the nineteenth century (including a tin type) and they're in excellent condition even though they've not been stored with exceptional care.
     
  20. Flotsam

    Flotsam Member

    Messages:
    3,221
    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2002
    Location:
    S.E. New Yor
    A few years ago, I bought a photo inkjet printer that claimed archival permanance of several times beyond Cibachrome. As I look at a print on my wall, after just a couple of years it is faded beyond usability, The Reds and Blacks are pretty much all that remain. No problem. I can always make another print. I hope that the CD that the file is stored on is still readable.
     
  21. titrisol

    titrisol Member

    Messages:
    1,671
    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2004
    Location:
    Rotterdam
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I have prints made by my grandfather, they were forgotten in a closet for ages until my grandma left her house 10 years ago.
    The prints are from the late 20s and they look fine, no bronzing or anything.
    My guess is that it is agfa paper.
     
  22. Louis Nargi

    Louis Nargi Member

    Messages:
    202
    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2004
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    Over the years Adems used the papers that were avalable to him at that time, some are still avalable,Ilford,Oriental. He liked Oriental Seagull a lot. The Kodak papers he used were Kodabromide, Azo, and proably many more.He use the papers everbody was using at that time nothing different.
     
  23. Deckled Edge

    Deckled Edge Member

    Messages:
    446
    Joined:
    Jan 25, 2004
    Location:
    Manhattan Be
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    Remember that Oriental has been sold twice since Ansel's time, and the Seagull name went with it. Today's Oriental Seagull is nothing like what he printed on. InThe Print and The Making of 40 Photographs he frequently refers to the various papers he has used, most of which are long gone. In fact, I doubt if any of the papers available to Ansel are available today as he knew them. "New and Improved!"=cheaper to manufacture.
     
  24. Maine-iac

    Maine-iac Member

    Messages:
    465
    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2004
    Location:
    Island Heigh
    Shooter:
    Med. Format RF
    This is half of the truth; the other half is that some (though by no means, all) of the newer papers are as good or better than the older ones, even if they are cheaper to manufacture. I'd stack up Agfa's MCC 111 or Ilford's Multigrade Warmtone FB against most any of the older papers I've known or seen. There have been significant improvements in coatings, brighteners, etc., even while there has also been cheapening of silver content in some cases.

    Bergger is aother new paper that incorporates many of the best features of old papers (high silver content) and includes many features of the best new papers.

    Larry
     
  25. pgomena

    pgomena Member

    Messages:
    1,386
    Joined:
    Jun 25, 2003
    Location:
    Portland, Or
    I work digitizing historic images for a research library, and in the past 14 months I've seen images running the gamut from wonderfully intact to horribly degraded. The worst of these are newspaper photographs from the 1970s-80s produced with the (un) stabilization process. They degrade in every storage situation and probably will be useless in another decade or so.

    Storage conditions make a huge difference depending upon the original and its immediate environment. It doesn't matter if an image is fixed, toned and washed well if it's stored in, for example, a cheap, acidic album that will eventually discolor the prints.

    I've seen well-processed commercial images from the 1930s that look almost as good as the day they were made, and I've seen images from the 1960s that are discolored due to poor processing. We have original Carleton Watkins albumin prints that were gold-toned and show signs of atmospheric contaminant damage. Some of his images are in remarkably good condition for being 140+ years old, others, stored in different conditions over time, maybe not processed as consistenty, are fading. (But that's albumin paper, not gelatin-silver, and the original mount boards probably are not archival.)

    In short, yes, archival methods will ensure a gelatin-silver print will last for decades or generations, especially if stored in a dry, acid-free environment.

    Pete Gomena
    Portland, Oregon USA
     
  26. dancqu

    dancqu Member

    Messages:
    3,676
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Willamette V
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Over the years; what? about 50 to 60? He may have played
    with VC. I've doubt he ever took it seriously. I did read
    though that current runs of his negatives are being
    done on Ilford Multigrade. Dan