Most people from the Baby Boomer generation (and many from younger generations) have home movies, slides, old photographs and images that are treasured.
Unfortunately, they aren’t always treated very well. Sometimes these treasured links to our past are stored in inhospitable places such as garages and attics. These places are subject to temperature extremes, as well as humid conditions that can be utterly destructive to film based media, as shown in the example below.
These conditions can be conducive to fungus and mold, and once it gets a stronghold on the emulsion of film or photographs, it actually consumes it until there’s nothing left of the image.
As the example above illustrates, what was once a home
movie of a special birthday is now reduced to something that looks like a psychedelic scene. This record of family history is at risk of being lost forever!
How should this situation be handled? Many people know that digitizing their home movies and pictures should be done, but it’s often low on the priority list. However, the sad fact is that many people don’t act until it’s too late. Sometimes there’s a little that can be salvaged. Sometimes there’s nothing left but regret that action wasn’t taken sooner.
Here are some tips that can help make sure you preserve your treasured memories:
Get your boxes of film, slides, or photos out of the “hot” zones like garages and attics.
Examine slides and home movies for obvious issues like powdery mold, fungus or other forms of damage. If they are in the condition shown in the photo, they should be transferred to a digital medium as soon as possible, if there’s enough to salvage. When handling, wearing a filter mask and exercising caution is a good idea if mold is present.
If no mold or fungus is present, then store them in in archival boxes or buy some new plastic disposable food containers. Punch small holes in the tops to ventilate. Don’t wait too long to transfer your media to a digital format. There might not be any obvious fungal damage now, but it could still emerge at some point.
Photographs in old boxes or albums should be digitized. Damaged photographs should be digitally restored to preserve them.
Videotape such as VHS should be transferred to DVD or other digital format. Video tape can degrade in the best of storage conditions, and degrades faster than film based media.VHS tape can begin to degrade in as little as twelve years, and premium quality tape begins to degrade after around twenty years.
Framed photographs can be in danger, even if displayed in climate controlled environments. Light can be very destructive, fading the dyes over time. This is especially true in portraits processed in the 1960’s and 1970’s. It’s best to make sure they are copied, and kept out of brightly lit areas.
Damaged photos can usually be digitally restored; issues such as cracks, spots, stains, and tears can be removed. Faded and discolored images can be repaired. Black and white photos can even be colorized, as seen in the example below.
Once you have your images digitized, the original material should still be properly stored, (in cool, dry locations). An exception to this general rule is original media that has been severely damaged by fungus. It should probably be discarded-but if you can’t bear to part with it, storing the media in zip-lock bags kept in a freezer will greatly slow any further destruction.
Now there’s the matter of storing the new digital copies. It’s advisable to have multiple copies made. Some can be given to family members, some can be stored in a safe deposit box. Having several copies in multiple locations will ensure that if one set is lost or destroyed, there are back up copies in place.
For extra protection, your digital copies can also be stored on an external hard drive.
DVD and CD media should be kept in their cases and stored in cool, dry locations. When handling discs, always hold the edges so the surface containing the data isn’t smudged or scratched.
All of these storage methods should be considered interim solutions until the next generation of digital storage technology emerges, making them obsolete.
Preservation of our family history is vital. With the advent of digital technology, those those images can now last indefinitely. Your family (and future family members) will surely appreciate it!
Phillip Whitt is a writer, published author, and owner of Whitt’s Image Works (www.whittsimageworks.com). Mr. Whitt has been preserving treasured memories since 2000, and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.