Printing with vintage negatives, preventing blemishes
I work with a lot of old negatives (family negs from the 30's - 50's and stuff I collect from the same era and older). I have an Omega DII with multiple condensers. I want to some day get a cold light head, but for now, have to work with some make-shift diffusion (frosted filters above the negative carrier -- see the recent thread "Adding Diffusion to Omega DII).
Anyhow, the negatives I work with usually have more problems than just dust (scratches, micro light holes in the negs, creases, waterspots, fingerprints, etc.). Of course I could do this type of work digitally (can I say that here even if it is in negative restoration?), except that I don't have acess to any top line computer/printer equipment and I can't imagine a digital print would have anything near the snap and sharpness of the darkroom process (not to mention as fun). I would prefer to look at a darkroom print (even with blemishes) than a flat digital print (even if it got rid of all the "flaws").
When I start with a negative, I usually gently blow some canned air on each side to get rid of as much dust as I can. I often find some hard to remove crusted stuff on the negative. I am tempted to try and remove it with a q-tip (and ?), but haven't the gumption or knowledge to try such an action. Adding diffusion to my condenser helps in cutting out some of the scratches and spots, though there is still plenty of crap that shows up on my prints. Although there are the obvious methods of treating the print itself (bleach, etc), I would like to pinch these flaws in the bud and eliminate the work on the print itself. Below, I have written a list of problems I have come across on my negatives - any suggestions would greatly help me:
Dust -- Is there a better way than canned air?
Hard to remove particles -- a q-tip and some wet substance -- any suggestions or better ideas?
Scratches -- Can anything be done?
Micro "light holes" -- any hope besides working directly on the print itself?
Fingerprints -- Any way to clean them off?
Water Spots -- Is it ok to use a q-tip and photo flo on these old negatives?
Creases -- Oh boy . . .
Please let me know what works for you.
Two other questions:
1. If I did have a cold light head (rather than make shift diffusion with my condenser enlarger), would it further cut down on a lot of these problems?
2. Does anyone know a good book out there on preparing/restoring old negatives before printing?
I've printed lots of those old negatives. There isn't much you can do to clean them up--old fingerprints never come off! Try PEC-12 with PecPads, and use an anti-static brush. For scratches, I use Edwal "No Scratch".
The more diffused light source, the better. But I don't think a cold light is superior to a diffused condenser.
You can wash the negatives, use Photoflow or another wetting agent in distilled water and let air dry. The wash time can be short as you are not removing hypo. If the negatives are thin use a toner to increase contrast. If you have a mimi vacuum like the kind used to clean keyboards you can vacuum the negative once it is in the carrier. You can look for older texts on photo restoration and learn how to retouch negatives.
Certainly, museums must contend with these problems all the time. I would call a photo curator and get advice.
I have rewashed negatives before, but I haven't had much luck. Seems that once something is embedded in the neg, it's stuck. Sometimes a brush is better than canned air as you can push a little harder. There are film cleaners and these can help fingerprints. Waterspots, try wiping with distilled water on a soft cloth. A drop of photo-flo may help. Scratches, Edwals helps the best, although it seems I read here one time about printing negatives while wet (between two pieces of glass with water (?) or oil (?)). If you try this, make the top piece diffuse and then Newton rings won't get you. Pin-holes that print black can be removed by spotting the negative (hard to do) or by small pin-pricks to the back side of the neg above the spot. This makes the light diffuse in the one little spot.
Diffused condenser? It's one or the other or somewhere in the middle. Can't be both. I have printed with a light source as yours. It is okay, but coldlight is more diffuse and diffusion is your friend for these negatives.
I have done one, which was so gummed up wit hold dust and whatnot that I had to resort to washing-up liquid and tepid water. It worked, and the negative was unharmed (unlike the dust). I don't think I would recommend that procedure except for the most extreme cases, though...
-- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist
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Based on the time frame your negs are from I would be trying to determine the negatives construction (what's made from) before attempting cleaning. Different bases probably require different treatments. One of our members (DKT I think is his used id here... David) works in a muesum of somesorts and would be able to point you in the right direction. Try sending him a message (he helped me identify some old negs a while back)
Not a very analog answer, but maybe you should just scan them and do all this in the computer.
look for an adams retouch machine on ebay and learn the old art of retouching.
DIGITAL IS FOR THOSE AFRAID OF THE DARK.
I work in the photo dept of a state history museum & we print old negs and plates from both our collection and sometimes the larger one housed within the state archives (they have their own labs as well). My advice is pretty simple--leave the negs alone. Don't rewet them or attempt to rewash them in any way. You run a high risk of making things worse. handle them with cotton gloves to protect them from your skin oils, and if neccessary use a gentle air or a brush to clean the dust off them.
there are three types of film bases besides glass plates, that you'll most likely encounter. two of them--nitrate and acetate--have a host of problems as they get older and start to naturally deteriorate. There's not much that you can do about this besides duping and/or making prints and shooting copynegs. you can't reverse this deterioration, but you can slow it down by the right storage methods. As they go--they exhibit all sorts of weird surface blemishes and stains-- the acetate (safety film) will shrink--buckles and warps the emulsion. The nitrate becomes brittle, turns sticky and then eventually turns to an acidic dust, and can be hazardous to everything around it including you.
It is possible to remove some of these stains, but I'm not a conservator, and I would never really attempt it, much less be allowed to do it at work. The acetate negs can be salvaged by stripping the emulsion off in a chemical bath and then floating it onto a new base--but from what I understand from the archives, it's an expensive procedure and there's no guarantee either. The nitrate can become water soluable at a certain point--so just like any of these old photos or negs--rewetting them and/or reprocessing them is asking for trouble if you don't know what you're doing.
fwiw--they way I print them is on a coldhead. we use glass carriers quite a bit, because few of these negs will lay flat even in a neg-a-flat carrier. you quite often have to use split filter printing and flash the paper to handle the densities and the contrasts of these old negs to match modern papers.
If you have glass plates, these have a whole set of special handling considerations and they can be very difficult to work with because they become brittle and the emulsion often flakes off. It's almost better, imho, to leave the dirt and dust that's embedded onto the emulsions alone. I really worry about making things worse--but like I said, I'm not allowed to do anything but print them or duplicate them at work.....
best book, but out of print:
"Collection, Use and Care of Historical Photographs" by Robert A. Weinstein and Larry Booth. published by the AASLH (American Assoc for Sate and Local History), 1977. ISBN-O-910050-21-X.
"The Care of Photographs" Siegfried Rempel, 1987, ISBN-0-941130-48-7
"Conservation of Photographs" Kodak, pub. F-40 (Cat # 193 5725)
NPS museum handbook:
CoOL--conservation online. do a search through the archives of the mailing list here titled, Consdistlist. You can also try to dig through the Smithsonian's site for the CAL lab, for handling & storage methods, but this is mostly geared towards paper (I did attend a seminar here several years ago about managing photo collections that was a joint smithsonian, IPI, National Archives thing and it was well worth the money--they do a similar one now at the George Eastman House, if you're really interested).
The Image Permanence Institute:
-- Download 2 things to help--the Acetate base Film Guide and the Preservation Calculator software for tracking the temp/rh for your film storage. The whole site is loaded with useful information though.
my advice--every state gov't has an archive that handles it's public records. You should be able to get advice on storage and handling as a patron. In the dept I work for they actually hold a seminar on caring for family photographs, and I'll bet most other states do something similar. You should be able to get this advice for free as a patron.
Particles stuck to the emulsion can often be removed safely with a plastic soda straw. Hold the straw at an angle an push the end against the particle and it will pop loose. If you need something stiffer use one of those plastic straws that attach to a can of WD-40 or other aerosol products. This method does not scratch the film.
Analog forever from here in Austin, Tx!