The Lennox and Addington Museum and Archives hosted a workshop on “Identification, Preservation and Description of Photographs and Documentary Art”. The morning session was run by Jennifer Bunting, historian and archive consultant. This focused on the different types of photographic materials that archives and museum staff might come across in the course of their work. It was wonderful to be able to handle (with cotton gloves on, of course!) the early photographs that Jennifer brought along – it was the first time that I had had a chance to see a daguerreotype, ambrotype and tintype up close, for example.

There are a number of online resources which might help in dating nineteenth century photographs, although most seem to be based in the UK. Roger Vaughan’s picture library is one example.

In the afternoon we heard from Iona McCraith, preservation consultant, about how best to store photographic materials. Iona had some sad examples of photographic negatives that were deteriorating due to ‘vinegar syndrome‘. These materials are best protected by being stored at low temperature and humidity levels. Given the warm and often fairly humid summer conditions that we get in this area, it seems likely that decay of photographic negatives that have been stored in the average family home will be fairly rapid. In these conditions, the Image Permanence Institute suggests that negatives will begin to break down in under 50 years: a significant preservation problem.