Magazine Article


The Archiving Advantage
Ensuring your photos will last the test of time

Tree Fern Detail, Carmel, California, © 2007 John Sexton. All rights reserved.

You're only as good as your last picture-well, sometimes, but not always. In fact, professionals can be as good as the picture they took a decade ago, or even longer. Because a photograph is as much a documentation of the past as it is an artistic portrayal of the present, a pro has to be as much the avid archivist as he/she is the adept artist.

Picture fade, light, and environmental damage are landmines you will need to avoid. Archiving your images properly can often mean the difference between a timely picture and a timeless photograph.

Fine-art photographer JOHN SEXTON is as meticulous about archiving as he is about all other facets of his business. "I think it's important for photographers to process, present, and store their photographic materials in an archival fashion," he says. "Most of the photographs any of us make will not end up on a gallery wall or in a museum collection. That being said, whether one is attempting to make a fine-art photograph or a family snapshot, it's important to allow those images to reach their maximum potential in terms of image permanence." Part of meeting this potential, according to Sexton, is creating a proper storage environment. Indispensable to his archiving process is Light Impressions' Westminster 100% rag museum board, linen tape, negative sleeves, and storage envelopes.

Choosing to work in traditional silver halide, Sexton says that it's "reassuring to know that this medium has a proven archival quality, with images that have successfully survived more than a century-and-a-half." And an ageless century-and-a-half is no small task when you're talking picture quality, especially considering the major changes the industry has undergone even in the last five years.

According to KYLE ONDRICEK, marketing manager for Lineco/University Products, "photographs have always been a fragile medium. Emulsions are affected by light, humidity, temperature, or dirt." Although photographers were aware of such hindrances in the past, they weren't always so inclined to take the necessary precautions to keep their work safe. However, he concedes that over the past two decades pros have come around: "The spotlight has recently become more centered upon preserving photos. I believe this came from two directions: amateurs saw their keepsake photos destroyed by vinyl pages, which sparked the ‘photo memory' industry; and professionals saw the value in older works as they witnessed millions being paid by major studios and museums."

As the digital movement took center stage, archiving technologies were remolded to fit the industry-wide transition. A whole new set of digitally related issues cropped up.

To circumvent such hurdles, DENNIS INCH of Archival Methods suggests photographers regularly update software, and select file formats that don't experience image loss as JPEGs do; also check files on a prescribed schedule to ensure they haven't been corrupted and keep back ups on different platforms.

"We developed a line of archival CD storage using NASA Corrosion Intercept technology to protect CDs from corrosion and ruin," says Lineco's Ondricek. Maintaining image files are only half the battle. Keeping prints and film from developing potentially harmful storage defects is equally pertinent. Giclée prints for example, introduced a new level of complexity. He says archival boxes were the answer, along with interleaving sheets and sleeves for protection.

As SARA CROFT of Light Impressions puts it, "Materials matter!" In order to establish a photographic landscape where images taken 20 years ago stand side-by-side with images taken two days ago, photographers need to take the time now to archive. "When your work shows or sells as fine-art, your presentation package must reflect the quality standard of your work," says Croft. "Additionally, you want the work to last far beyond the years of the original purchaser or owner." She suggests that if as a beginning photographer, you start out with sound practices for safely storing your work, you'll save time and money from having to perform damage control later.

With today's technologies, photographers have the opportunity to present more images to clients, including those taken throughout their career, which, increases the likelihood of additional sales. As John Sexton explains: "It's amazing how a seemingly simple picture can have great value as time evolves, whether a family heirloom or a piece of collectible artwork." The only way to ensure such an evolution is by choosing the proper archiving method for your work.