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  1. #1

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    Real world life of FB prints

    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. #2
    Ed Sukach's Avatar
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    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.
    Carpe erratum!!

    Ed Sukach, FFP.

  3. #3
    Maine-iac's Avatar
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    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. #4
    rbarker's Avatar
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    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.
    [COLOR=SlateGray]"You can't depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus." -Mark Twain[/COLOR]

    Ralph Barker
    Rio Rancho, NM

  5. #5
    David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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    There are plenty of 19th-century prints in museums and collections, not to mention other kinds of paper objects much older than that.
    flickr--http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidagoldfarb/
    Photography (not as up to date as the flickr site)--http://www.davidagoldfarb.com/photo
    Academic (Slavic and Comparative Literature)--http://www.davidagoldfarb.com

  6. #6
    Ole
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    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.
    -- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist
    Norway

  7. #7

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    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. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Stanworth
    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.Tom
    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. #9
    Flotsam's Avatar
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    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
    That is called grain. It is supposed to be there.
    =Neal W.=

  10. #10

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    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.

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