Preservation of deteriorating negatives

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by Loose Gravel, Aug 21, 2003.

  1. Loose Gravel

    Loose Gravel Member

    Feb 28, 2003
    Santa Barbar
    A friend has come to me with some negatives from WWII. There are pictures of airplanes, crew, and the like, taken aboard an aircraft carrier.He would like some prints. The negatives look in good shape and a single print he had from one of the negs looks good, but the emulsion side show some signs of aging. What I see is a reflection that looks a bit metallic and my guess is that the negs were not washed that well as nobody cared whether or not they should last this long. The metallic look is not in the form of an image, but more like the neg was in contact with another neg and there are areas with straight edges. Just holding them up to the light, and looking through them, they look fine.

    Should I try to stop the deterioation? Is the damage done? Do they need to be refixed and washed? I'm not interested in any restoration as I think they will make fine prints for his needs, but if I can do something simple to stop this effect, I will.

    The negs are 4x5 and 5x7. One is thin base, the rest are thick. One has 2 notches in the ID corner, the rest are unnotched. The 57 negs have some holes punched around the edges as if the neg holder held the neg in tension (?).

  2. Jorge Oliveira

    Jorge Oliveira Member

    Jun 9, 2003
    AFAIK refixing will not help - a few days (or will it be hours?) after insuficient fixing, it's too late.

    But you may try to rewash them.
    If your fixer is a hardening one, maybe it's worth to refix just for hardening afrer a rewash before making prints.

    Jorge O
  3. Aggie

    Aggie Member

    Jan 1, 2003
    So. Utah
    Multi Format
  4. mvjim

    mvjim Member

    Apr 20, 2003
    New York Cit
    Rewashing is a good idea followed by a clearing agent and again rewashing. Selenium toning is also a good idea to preserve whats there but they must be toned to completion to be of any help, which will increase the contrast, but help some in preservation. A SISTAN bath after final wash will also aide in this.
    Be careful of the thinner negatives as they can have a tendency to curl severly while drying. ( I've seem some actualy curl up on themselves) It would be a good idea to test one before you procede to avoid the panic of a cabnet full of curling negatives. Another issue is the proper storage of these negatives afterwards to help avoid further problems, especially after going to all this trouble.
  5. DKT

    DKT Member

    Sep 19, 2002

    What you describe could be either the film base itself decomposing or improper storage/processing or a combination of all these. If I were you I would leave them alone. Look for a state or local archive near you if possible and get them to offer advice on care and handling. I say this because WWII era negatives will be either Nitrate based or early acetate-based "safety film". In short, they're a PIA to handle and store, and someone in an archive could help you identify the film base and give you tips on storage.

    So--leave them alone--brush off the dirt or any type of particles you can, but DO NOT rewet them. The emulsion becomes water soluble at a certain point with degrading nitrate negs. You'll ruin them, if you rewet them. If there's any mold in the gelatin, this could be pretty bad too. For the most part, the best thing to do is to either duplicate the negs or make prints & copy negs, and then store the originals *away* from everything else. Keep them cool & dry and let them breathe--because they both can offgass byproducts that will speed up their decay if trapped in a plastic sleeve or film can. The nitrate is highly flammable though and can damage other materials nearby.

    1951 was about the last date of manufacture for Kodak nitrate film. They started phasing it out in the 30s. Pack film (sheets) and roll films were made up til the end. Cut sheets started to go out earlier. On acetate films--they say "Safety" on the edges. If it doesn't say Safety someplace, assume it's nitrate unless you can ID it otherwise. Thye can be hard to ID because records of manufacture of very spotty, and at first, they sorta decay the same way.

    There was a survey done of negs in archives back in the mid 90s. According to a handout I have--the notch code for a pre-1949 Kodak sheet film on nitrate would have been a "V" first from the edge. From 1925-1949, they used a U in this place for Acetate base. This is Kodak though, ansco, defender, all those others are different.

    Some good books are Kodak's "Conservation of Photography", the AASLH's (out of print) "Collection, Use and Care of Historical Photographs" ISBN 0-910050-21-X. or Siegfried Rempel's "Care of Photographs". ISBN 0-941130-48-7. You can also get handouts from suppliers like Gaylord Bros. or Hollinger that deal with caring and storing nitrate & acetate films.

    Hope this helps, I might be able to dig out some links for you as well, your best bet is an archive though. Sounds like some neat images anyways, if there's an archive or historical society doing any kind of WWII history programs, they may be interested in the photos themselves. The time is now to get the good prints or copy negs though.


    my opinions.