Help restoring old photo collection
Hello everyone, long time lurker, first time poster. It's great to have such a large collection of analog photography users on the web.
My friend's house recently had a broken water pipe downstairs, and it affected many of his photos. All of his film is consumer-grade film and local photo developers (grocery stores, pharmacies, etc.) For example, using this website:
and reading the codes on the film, some of his color negatives are marked:
100-3 which is Ektar 100 Gen 3 (not sure if CX or SY?)
200-5 which is Kodacolor VR 200 Gen 5
They all seem to be C-41, is this correct?
I am an amateur photographer (THE photographer in my group of friends), so he turned to me for help. The only developing I've done on my own is black and white large format T-Max and Tri-X, a few years ago. Before that, I just shot 35mm and sent my film off for developing. Nowadays, I shoot mostly digital except for the occasional roll through a Nikon FE or N2002. I feel like I know how to handle film and prints, so I'm confident that I can undertake the restoration of these snapshots. Plus, it wouldn't be worth it to send these off to a professional conservator, as they're mainly just snapshots. If you guys don't mind, I'd like you to read over my workflow, and interject any advice you have or correct any misunderstandings.
-The first job (and by far the most time consuming and important) will be to clean the negatives. Many were in standing water for a bit. Some are stuck to each other, some are stuck to prints, some are stuck to the paper envelopes that the lab returned the prints/negatives in, and some are plastered to the plastic sleeves that the photo lab sometimes used. How should I go about un-sticking them? I've been reading, and it seems that I'll be mostly/all dealing with C-41 film. What is the point of formalin/formaldehyde in color process? Is it only to protect the film from becoming a petri dish, or does it also do something to the colors? The local camera shop in Austin, TX just happened to have a bottle of Kodak Flexicolor stabilizer III & replenisher for C-41, laying by itself on a shelf. It says on the label that it should be used to make 1 gallon, and that it contains formaldehyde and methanol. From what I understand, this is what I should use, but it has been discontinued? For the old 4x5, we would rinse the negatives in photoflo before hanging them in the film dryer, is a formaldehyde-free photoflo rinse bad for color negatives? If so, I am going to soak the various negatives in a cold solution of distilled water and the appropriate proportion of flexicolor to loosen them up from each other/the various other substances and then gently see if they fall apart. Will this mixture will be safe for all films I come across, if I accidentally throw in some other type of film? (black and white, E6, etc). If a formaldehyde-free photoflo rinse is not recommended for these films, what is the best way to come about more solution? Can I substitute this rinse:
Or should I buy a bottle of this off of ebay:
Or can I just mix the photoflo 200 I have with a certain percentage of formalin (from an aquarium supply store?) Also, how well-vented does the room have to be when using this bath? We were going to use Nitrile gloves, but should we have a vent fan turned on? The room we considered using is probably 400 square feet and is part of the central air condition.
-The negatives are water damaged, which means mold. I have PEC-12, lighter fluid, and 91% isopropyl alcohol. I also have PEC pads to use as wipes. After the negatives are dry from the above rinse, should I use just the PEC-12, or does one of the other chemicals work too, either alone or in conjunction with the PEC-12?
-For the prints, should I soak them in anything besides cold water? The ones that were just slightly stuck together I assume will be fine, but any damage to the prints is irreversible, from my previous experience. Does adding photoflo to the water help with prints?
For the scanning portion, is this still the correct subforum to ask, or should I post somewhere else? I am going to digitize his collection. I have my old Epson Perfection 2450, and recently when my dad wanted me to digitize a lot of his old slides, I decided to bite the bullet on a Canoscan 9000f, since it has FARE (i.e. Digital ICE) and is LED, so there is no warm up time. Should I scan before AND after cleaning? Is there a potential for serious damage to his negatives that I should take such precautions, or are the cleaning methods harmless to film? I always just used the programs that came with the scanner, but now that I've been reading online, I am seeing a lot about Vuescan and Silverfast. Will I see a marked improvement in upgrading to one of these programs? After this, I will be transferring the negatives over to a more ordered system of archival binders and archival sleeves. I am going to scan the film at 1200 or 2400 dpi, while I assume that for the photos, I'll be able to get by with 300dpi, right?
Thanks in advance for the help, and sorry for such a long post. I just want to cover my bases and make sure I'm taking good care of my friend's collection.
It sounds like you've got quite a task on your hands. You might want to look into some books on conservation; I know that Bertrand Lavedrine has a book called A Guide to the Preventive Conservation of Photograph Collections and it has a section on flood damaged collections.
I'm afraid that the stuff that is sticking together is going to be difficult if not impossible to salvage. I think you are supposed to soak them before attempting though; ideally you dry-freeze them when they are still wet, but it sounds like that is not an option.
As for mold, I think there is also mention of solutions that clear that up. Also try Eaton's book on conservation.
If you are the big tree, we are the small axe
Buy the formalin containing stabilizer bottle, it's the right stuff for the "final rinse".
I have found that submerging stucked films/prints under water helps separating them. Pull them gently and very slowly apart. You may need to stop and wait at times before going on, but I think it should go quite easily in most cases. There may be better tips out there, just wait and see, I'd bet there are more knowledgeable people around here than me.
After you have separated the materials from each other, you can try to gently scrub to get rid of paper etc. traces, still under water, but you have a risk of scratching film. It may not be that bad, though.
After this, you can move the films to the formalin-containing stabilizer for a minute or two. Avoid excessive skin contact by using gloves. Then, hang to dry in a dustless place.
As for scanning, hybridphoto.com is the right "subforum" to get more detailed help.
Isopropanol is ok for film, even after stabilizer step, but in that case you should use 99% version just to be sure. I'm not sure about other solvents you mentioned.
Actually DPUG.org now
Originally Posted by hrst
If you are the big tree, we are the small axe
Great, thanks a ton! I'm going to check out that book later today and see if there's anything that helps. Also, there is a newer book by him; I'll see if that helps as well. Using just distilled water to rinse them is good advice; it's exactly the kind of feedback I was looking for, thanks. And I'll head over to the other forum and see what kind of help I can get, but that part won't be happening for a long time, as we have a lot of cleaning to do first!
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Really simple way to unstick negs that have stuck together, 1l solution of distilled water with 3ml of Kodak Photoflo, 12 hours soak ensuring all of the negative is under the water, take them out and while still wet they should slide apart easily. Has worked for me a number of times.
DISCLAIMER: I do not know how this will effect the negs archivability but I figure that its better than nothing in the cases I have used it.
AFAIK, archivability should be OK as long as you use Stabilizer after that and then let the films dry.
Too long soak (tens of hours?) may cause damage to emulsion however, like loosening from the film base. Be careful, and start testing from the least important rolls.
I used this method on a set of 4x4 negs approx 2 years ago, with a 12 hour soak. 2 Years later the emulsion seems fine but these negs were already badly damaged from fungus and mold.
There's no way to "revert" the fungus. The damage is forever, and it ate some of the gelatin.
The DX bar codes along the edge of the film can definitively identify the film type. 100-3 is probably "Gold 100" Generation 3.
Flexicolor Stabilizer III is still available, although hard to find. Folks are selling bottles pretty cheaply on eBay, that's where I got one. No harm in running post-2000 C-41 negative film through it. Treat it with respect, use nitrile gloves, good ventilation.
Yes, if a negative is scannable before any restoration work, do that first. In some cases, the fungus damage may cause the negative to turn to soup when you get it wet again.