ESARBICA Journal: Journal of the Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Branch of the International Council on Archives

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The Preservation and Care of Photographic Records in Heritage Collections With Reference to the Photograph Collection of the Alan Paton Centre and Struggle Archives

Estelle Liebenberg-Barkhuizen


It is not unusual for libraries and heritage institutions to include photographic records and collections in their archival holdings. The short history of photography reveals that a range of different materials, chemicals and processes are involved in capturing photographic records, indicating the chemical complexity of the different photographic types and film. To ensure their longevity, photographic records and materials require stringently applied preservation measures and correct storage methods as their chemical make-up is prone to deteriorate rapidly if environmental conditions are not optimal and storage enclosures are ill-considered. Also, records can easily be damaged through incorrect handling, storage and display methods.

The current preoccupation with digitisation and the availability of digital imagery has opened up the discourse of the preservation of conventional photographic records. As conventional photographic records, equipment and materials seem to be disappearing, making way for digital technologies, the need for the physical preservation of conventional photographic materials has come to the fore. To ascertain suitable preservation, handling and storage methods for photographic records, this article will outline briefly the chemical make-up of photographic records as found in the Alan Paton Centre and Struggle Archives at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa; discuss the identification of different film types represented in this collection; examine causes of deterioration and damage; and will recommend suitable preservation and storage methods and systems to assist in prolonging the life of these photographic records. Some observations on the usefulness of digitisation as an effective preservation tool will conclude the article.

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