Keeping Negatives

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    • #133047

      Our museum has a lot of negatives that we haven’t had a chance to properly store. We are currently going through the boxes and debating whether or not it is important to keep negatives that never really see the light of day. Would you recommend scanning and then tossing them, or spending the money to keep them in our collection?

    • #133056

      Hello Brittany. How many cubic feet of negatives do you have? With my last employer, we purchased a used frost-free freezer from a biomedical company for $800, but that was for a sizeable collection of sheet film. A small budget was alloted each year to account for maintenance, but all-in-all it was a fairly inexpensive endeavor. Scanning the negatives was costly, but we were able to secure grant-funding to complete that part. I wrote an article about the process, if you’re interested in reading it: http://docs.nrm.org/portfolios/2000s/2007_Summer_complete.pdf (pp. 14-15). The method we used to freeze the negatives was developed by a conservator, and is available for free download: http://wilhelm-research.com/subzero/cmi.html.

      It has always been recommended to me to retain the original negatives as they are the master copy of that image.

    • #133055

      Brittany – The only response I can muster, do not follow a “scan and then toss” path. I will not speak for all but digital imaging is, in my opinion, not archival. Digital archiving is subject to changing technology. Would a JPEG image on a “zip” drive be accessible in the future? Does your desktop have a zip drive? Or better yet, does it have a 5 1/4″ floppy reader. Corry’s recommendation of retaining the
      “master” is strong advice. In the case of negatives, slides or any image production of a chemical nature, my opinion is, the process to replicate will always exist. But not so, the electronics…..

    • #133054
      Ben Shaw
      Member

      Hello Brittany.
      When it comes to digitization Mickey is right, too many times have originals been destroyed because an electronic copy has been made, and then the electronic copy have become unreadable. Electronic copies should never be treated as the original unless the object has been “born” digital. If Corry’s freeze solution is too much (although it is the preferred method) issues such as “Vinegar Syndrome” can be minimized by properly storing the negatives in acid free containers and updating the containers as needed (a ph pen is very useful for this).

      Hope that this helps.

      Cheers.
      Ben

    • #133053

      Brittany, I am so glad you asked this question. We recently acquired an entire newspaper morgue of our largest newspaper. (They have gone totally digital.) you did to answer as to the size of your collection of negatives?
      Our acquisition is brand new to us, and an intern and I are just starting to process it. We know we have bare minimum of 60,000 images, probably more. Thank you, your question helped me as well.

    • #133052

      Brittany, I am so glad you asked this question. We recently acquired an entire newspaper morgue of our largest newspaper. (They have gone totally digital.) you did to answer as to the size of your collection of negatives?
      Our acquisition is brand new to us, and an intern and I are just starting to process it. We know we have bare minimum of 60,000 images, probably more. Thank you, your question helped me as well.

    • #133051

      Brittany, I am so glad you asked this question. We recently acquired an entire newspaper morgue of our largest newspaper. (They have gone totally digital.) you did to answer as to the size of your collection of negatives?
      Our acquisition is brand new to us, and an intern and I are just starting to process it. We know we have bare minimum of 60,000 images, probably more. Thank you, your question helped me as well.

    • #133050

      This is an excellent question. As someone who manages 800,000 images and growing,I would never get rid of negatives unless I have completed a full assessment of the collection by asking questions such as:

      Do these items fit our institutional mission?
      Do these items have significant preservation concerns?
      Do these items require special treatment/storage beyond what we already provide?
      Do these items have archival value?
      Do these items have copyright issues?
      Do these items have ownership issues?
      Are there any restrictions?
      What is the size of the collection? Is there a chance of an addition to the collection?
      How are the items currently arranged? Will we keep this arrangement?

      I also think of them in terms of:

      Subject
      Uniqueness
      Quality
      Access/Accessibility
      Photographer

      Negatives as the master images. They are the permanent record.

      Just because you have a print of the negative doesn’t mean you have all the information you need. A print is an interpretation of the negative and no two photographers will print the same negative the same way. The print may also be deficient in its details compared to the negative.

      A digital image in this case is merely a surrogate, much like the print.

      The Library of Congress has an amazing bibliography, http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/resource/vmbib.html

      You may also find this helpful, http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/cataloging.html

      I also suggest
      Chapter 
4
 in Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler, Diane L Vogt-O’Connor, with Helena Zinkham, Brett Carnell, Kit A. Peters. Photographs: Archival Care and Management. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2006.

      Miriam

    • #133049

      When I first started at my current museum I was faced with 20,000 undocumented diacetate and nitrate negatives, most still in their original envelopes. I created a long range tiered plan to re-file, store, and catalog. The NHPRC (grant funding arm of the National Archives) provided a modest grant to at least duplicate the nitrate negatives onto polyester safety film (around 400). Due to the hazards of keeping nitrate negatives, the NHPRC did allow us to destroy them only after they were duplicated onto another film medium (still as negatives -though they required we produce two copies, a duplicate negative and a positive). The NHPRC wouldn’t award us the grant unless we could demonstrate that the original diacetate negatives would be preserved.

      I was able to use matching funds from my insitituion to hire a cataloger for six months to start cataloging the negatives into our collections database. The negatives had previously been grouped into portraits and historic subject matter. The most important goal for us was to get the historic subject matter negatives cataloged first as these are used the most by researchers. We also purchased three refrigerators to begin storing our diaceate negatives in cold storage as part of the grant project.

      Ten years later, we are still working on re-housing and cataloging the portraits. We haven’t begun to think about digitization yet, though no doubt the historic subjects will be the first to be digitized. It has been a long slow process, though the collection in its entirety has been a boon for researchers and local history authors.

      If you have questions about conservation or duplication of negatives I strongly suggest the Northeast Document Conservation Center, the staff was extremely helpful and more than willing to give advice. I would be glad to talk about our project in more detail with you.

    • #133048
      Susan Knoer
      Member

      Negatives are your originals, the prints or scans are the access copies. Scans, in particular, are very temporary unless you spend a LOT of money on backups and migration over time. Even if you spend a little money on cold storage for negatives, it’s more cost effective than tossing them after scanning.

      Think of them as part of your collection – would you toss an item simply because it’s not currently on display? Because you have a reproduction? Or are these photos documenting conservation work that you need to keep?

      Granted, not all photos or negatives are good – I tossed a lot of blurry long-distance shots of nameless teams playing soccer in nameless fields – but make your decision based on what generation it is (original or access) and what the content is, rather than space concerns.

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