Last week we finally began rehousing the first of the photographs. It was quite an exciting moment as this is what various members of staff and volunteers have been working towards for the last few years. As we rehouse each photograph we also assign it an inventory number, scan it, and add it to our collection management system. This means that very soon you will be able to see digital copies of the photographs yourself on the National Trust Collections website.
The reason for the photo archive projects is twofold. Firstly to make sure we know exactly what we’ve got and where it is, but also to ensure the photographs are stored correctly. Before coming into the possession of the National Trust, the majority of the photographs had been kept in suitcases – not an ideal environment! We can also see evidence of light damage, foxing, minor tears and cockling that may have occured from how they were stored and displayed in earlier years. Andy has written a blog about conservation issues with photographs before, but now that we’ve finally started rehousing I thought I’d talk about how we’re combatting them.
Each photograph is first gently cleaned with extremely soft brushes. We use squirrel hair on the emulsion side and goat hair on the reverse to remove surface dirt – it’s surprising the difference this simple technique can make to how the photograph looks.
After scanning and cataloguing, the photographs are put into pockets and given a slip of acid-free card behind for support, on which is written the inventory number. This not only confines individual photos to an enclosed location, but also prevents unnecessary handling when rifling through the boxes for a specific photograph.
The boxes are also acid free and are designed so that pockets hang down from the rings. This ensures that there is no pressure on the bottom photographs. The boxes are then returned to the store where we take regular humidity readings with a humidistat to ensure the room is not to damp or too dry.
Once completed, this should provide long term storage that will preserve the photographs in a stable environment for future generations.