Friday, January 28, 2011

Protecting Your Valued Photographs

By Nita Davis

vintage photographs by Gracey
Lets face it, few people actual store ALL of their photographs within albums. Most have at least some of their photos in some type of box, tucked away in a closet, basement or attic. Even photos that are being stored long term are important, so what can we do to protect our stored photographs? 

The first step to protecting your stored photographs isn't really all that difficult or expensive. Get rid of that ordinary cardboard box and place your photographs in a metal or acid free archival quality box. These can be purchased at your local hobby or photo store or on line for as low as $5.00 a box. It is important to remember that wood or wood products not labeled 'acid-free' should be avoided as they emit chemical fumes that will harm your photographs and accelerate the deterioration process. When you are transferring those photos from that old cardboard box make sure to remove them from any non archival safe envelopes,  archival safe envelopes and plastic sleeves can be used instead. A few other things you want to watch for and remove are rubber bands and paperclips as these can also damage your photos. Organizing your stored photos is a matter of personal preference. However, if you want to make it easier to find specific photographs that are in long term storage having some sort of organizational system in place will help. You can arrange your photos by year, event or some other topic, it is totally up to you.

Next you want to make sure to place that new acid-free box of photographs in a safe environment. The ideal environment is a dark area around 65 degrees Ferinheight and 50% humidity, in other words someplace that is cool, dark and dry. The best place is one that has minimal fluctuations in temperature and humidity, so try to avoid places such as basements and attics. When looking for that place also ask yourself where in your home would be least likely to sustain water or fire damage. A quick note about storing the original prints of rare and important photographs; The best place to do this is a bank safety deposit box as they are climate controlled and secure. Now that you have safely stored those photographs don't forget that they will still deteriorate with time.

It would be a good idea to plan how you wish to back up your photographs. You may want to scan them all and make a digital archive, or you may want to make copies of the most important photos dividing them between a few family members so that if one copy is damaged there is another copy. Another possibility is to have one family member store the photographs and another store the negatives. Either way you will want to plan a time to go through them and decide which photos you want to archive and thus preserve for future generations.

With the stored photographs protected it is time to think about what can be done to protect the photos we share and display. Do we really need to do anything to protect them from rapid deterioration? The answer is yes.

When purchasing new albums and scrapbooks or scrapbook supplies you want to make sure that they are 'acid free', as not all albums and paper supplies are acid free and will accelerate the deterioration process if used. [see below note about 'acid free' or archival safe labeling] It is best to avoid magnetic self adhesive photo albums as these are generally not archival quality and the adhesive will damage your photos. Take a minute and look at your older photo albums and scrapbooks, if you have photos in magnetic albums I recommend transferring these to a newer non-magnetic album. Some people will suggest taking apart old scrapbooks made with the black pages as they are definitely not acid free, however when you take apart a scrapbook often important information pertaining to the photos within is lost. Instead I recommend scanning each page of the album at a minimum 300dpi, that way you have a copy of not only the photos but all the information as it originally appears in the scrapbook. Another thing to watch for with older albums is photos sticking to the plastic sheaths, if this is happening I suggest transferring all photos that haven't stuck to the plastic to a newer album and scanning those that have stuck. In and upcoming article on saving damaged photos we will give more attention to this and other problems such as photos stuck together and those with mold on them.

Photo books are another nice way to share your photos, however when you are ordering your photo book I suggest making sure that the book you order will be archival quality as some quick labs, although they offer photo books at very inexpensive prices, the paper used in the printing of the books is not archival quality paper so the photos will fade much faster than those purchased from a photographer or photo design company such as Artistix Network LLC which uses a professional photo lab for processing. Whatever type of books  or albums you choose to use remember these too should be kept in a cool dry place.

Things to keep in mind when framing your photos. First and foremost never place your framed photo in direct sunlight as this will cause rapid fading. Photographs can and will stick to the glass if they remain in a frame for a long period of time without the benefit of a Window Matt. UV protected glass can reduce the risk of light damage. Chemicals used to treat some wood frames can cause the frame to omit unsafe fumes which can accelerate deterioration of your photograph, so if you are like me and love the look of wood frames you may want to make sure there is a digital back up of that precious photograph.

A note about 'acid free' or archival safe labeling: Unfortunately because 'acid free' and 'archival safe' labeling is not regulated even some that are marked accordingly may not be. To be 100% sure you can purchase a PH pen and test the products before you purchase or use them. Purchasing your archival supplies from a reputable archival company such as Gaylord, Light Impressions Direct or Metal Edge Inc. can eliminate your concerns as they all use the Photographic Activity Test (PAT) to make sure their products are safe for use with photographs. 
For clear plastic photo storage items be sure to look for the following safe products: Polyester, Mylar, Polypropylene, Polyethelene, Tyvek.

Is it necessary to preserve every photo you own with archival safe products? Absolutely not, as there are most likely many photos that while they have sentimental value to you they may not all need to be preserved for future generations. For example I have around one hundred photos from the first school I taught at, do I need to preserve all of these? No, but at the same time these photos will give future generations a little understanding of who I am. So what I have done is to compile my favorites of these photos and put them into a memory collage or as I like to call them Memory Art Prints. By doing this I now have just one photo to protect instead of 100 photos. Future generations will have the one photo that tells a story of my time teaching, and if the album I place the rest in isn't acid free it wont be a major problem.  It is up to you to decide which photos you want passed down to future generations and those are the ones that I strongly recommend you make sure to use only acid free archival safe product with.

Not sure where to purchase photo storage and archival products? Here is a list of links to online distributors of photo storage supplies. Some are definitely archival quality while others I am not sure of as they do not give information on if their products have undergone a PAT test or not: [this is the most economical, although there is no mention of PAT testing and I haven't tested them personally I do like and use the Pioneer photo albums for general photo storage.] [recommended to me by the assistant curator of 'The Old Court House Museum' and now my personal favorite, with gaylord you can rest easy that your storage items are 100% acid free.]
[Awesome photo archival storage system which I will be trying out and testing in the near future]

I hope you find this information helpful, and if you have any questions feel free to ask them and if I don't know the answer I will find out. Before writing this article I decided it would be a good idea to do a bit of extra research because I know there is always more to learn and I was very glad I did. It was in this recent research I discovered that 'acid free' labeling is not a guarantee that the product is actually acid free. If you are looking to become a serious family archivist you may want to check out a few of my favorite archive information resources they are the National Archives , Photo Heritage by Ralph McKnight and Bonnie Sorensen, the practical archivist Sally Jacobs.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Winter Photographs

If you are looking for inspiration for taking winter photographs check out these absolutely beautiful and amazing winter photographs.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Finding Family Histories the Fun Way

Photograph by Jusben at
By Nita Davis

Lets face it most people love to talk about their lives. Thankfully this makes gathering an in-depth family history a bit easier. To begin building your family history you may want to encourage story telling sessions either in a group setting or individually with family members. Using props such as family heirlooms, old photos or home movies to revive memories is a great way to get the stories going.

Family gatherings are perfect for learning about your family's past. Just set up a video recorder off to the side in the room where most of the family gather. If your family is like mine that would probably be the kitchen or dining room. To get the stories rolling make a comment about a particular event you are aware of or bring out an old photo or family heirloom. Often it does not take much  more than that, and stories begin to unfold, with each member adding their memories of the event. Later you can follow up with individual family members to get more detailed stories of the events discussed at the gathering, as well as other memories they may have.

When you do follow up be sure to create an informal atmosphere so they will be more comfortable telling their story. While letting them know you are working on gathering information for a family history project may make the subject a tad nervous I believe it is important that know because they may be alright with telling you more than they might want future generations to know. This will also open the door for you to ask for permission to either record the discussion with either a video or audio recorder. Turn your cell phone off and give them your full attention keeping eye contact and giving appropriate responses, and they will be more apt to open up while telling their story. Don't let pauses in the story scare you, be patient give them time to collect their thoughts and memories.

Ask questions that draw out the story not ones that can be answered with a simple 'yes' or 'no' response. Your questions should start with when, why, how, where and what. It is also good to ask about how they felt, as feelings are very difficult to learn from other records and documents. As you listen to their story additional questions will come to you that can be asked to expand on information already received. However, don't interrupt to ask the question just jot it down on a notepad to be asked later. Don't stress out that you aren't asking the right questions or asking them the right way, just be yourself and relax and your family member will likely relax as well. Not sure what to ask? Check out this list of top 50 questions to ask family members for ideas and inspiration.
Once you have developed a sense of easiness with your family member be sure to ask the personal questions, such as those about first loves, hard times. What ever you do though don't challenge or judge the story teller or their story, it is their story after all. You may think it is not accurate, when it may just be that you are hearing it from a different perspective than you have heard it before. Just as with world history every event has at least two sides, so collecting multiple versions of a story can give later generations a better understanding of the events as they affected various members of the family.

Collecting family history should be an ongoing effort, not that you need to have formal interviews each year but that you should continue to ask questions and gather new stories for your family history book. Here are a few ideas that can help you continue your efforts: Create or purchase a Family Journal that you can record information in when you come across it, and don't forget to take it with you anytime you visit family; start a new family tradition and send each member a 'Yearly Event Questionnaire'  for them to fill out on New Years Eve and return to you for inclusion in the Family History Journal (don't forget to include a self addressed stamped envelope for them to return it to you); Another possibility is to create a family website that allows members to add photos and stories for events as they occur, this can be very fun especially if your family is into technology. In addition to family members there are many genealogy resources on the internet, some with very detailed records.

Keep in mind that while this all takes time it is time well spent. You will not only get a chance to learn your family's history but you may also find that you become closer to various members of the family through the sharing of memories.  The more members you have contributing to your family history the better it will become. You will be rewarded with a very detailed record of your family that will become cherished not only by you but by future generations.

For more details on conducting an oral history interview check out the 'Top 10 Tips for Great Interview Stories' which covers some of the above information and more.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What Are We Missing?

What are we missing as we rush through life?
Reading this article about an Interesting social experiment makes me wonder just how many beautiful things I have missed because I just didn't have the time.
Just as these people missed a beautiful opportunity often in our everyday lives we miss special moments with our family and friends because we are too 'busy'. 
Beautiful memories are all around us we just have to take the time to see them.
Click Here to Read about the experiment.
May your day be full of beautiful moments!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Preserving Memories through Photographic Composite Artwork

Just as a writer or a musician uses words or musical notes to capture emotions and tell a story, photographic composition is for me a means of capturing and imparting memories and emotions. When no actual photo exists of a special memory creating a photographic composite piece can help preserve the memory. Whether I am attempting to recreate one of my own memories or dreams, or that of my clients, a photographic composite artwork is much like a story that unfolds before the viewers eyes.

Each composite photograph tells a story full of ideas, emotions and sometimes memories. The meaning may be very subtly or it may appear obvious. Either way the artwork allows us a glimpse into the heart, mind and soul of the artist or in the case of commissioned works, the clients. But how we interpret that glimpse depends both on the artists' ability to convey their message and upon our own life views, memories and experiences. For example take this composite art piece, some people that view it feel it carries a message of sadness, neglect or abuse, while other see in it hope, anticipation and optimism. What do you see? Tell me how you interpret this piece, then after a few people have responded,  I will give you the story behind this art piece.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Creating a Visual Family History

By Nita Davis

Importance of Photographs
Thanks to the digital age creating a detailed visual history for future generations is easier than ever. Throughout the years mankind has strove to create a visual connection to their ancestors. First through rock carvings, then paintings and eventually through the invention of photographs. More recently the invention of digital photography has made it even easier. Paintings and photographs provide us with a legacy that not only establishes the physical characteristics shared by our ancestors but gives us a more accurate portrayal of their lives, often recording in detail family traditions and special events. Through modern technology your photographic history if stored properly can become a vivid visual legacy preserved and enjoyed by future generations hundreds of years from now, maybe even a thousand years.

Before we go into the steps of building your visual legacy there are some important guidelines you should be aware of for the printing, handling and storing of photographic prints, that if followed will ensure your photos last as long as possible. Archival quality photo papers and inks are designed to last from 75 to 100 years when properly stored.

Photo Handling and Storage
Photographs like most anything else do deteriorate over time, and there are certain things that can speed up that deterioration. The first very important thing to know is that when I talk about the care and handling of photographs I am talking about those that have been printed at a professional photo lab because photographs printed on an ink-jet printer even if using photo paper fade much faster than those processed at a professional photo lab. Typically ink-jet photographs will begin to fade even if cared for properly within ten years.

The biggest culprits to cause the deterioration of photographs are temperature, humidity and sunlight. This is especially so when photos are stored in an area such as a basement or attic where heat and humidity is followed by cold dry weather in a continuous cycle. These conditions can actually cause your photos not only to fade but to crack and the image to separate from the paper it was printed on. Dirt, dust, oil and chemical fumes can also damage and shorten the lifespan of your photographs. For these reasons it is always important when storing photos to avoid places where they would be exposed to direct sunlight, high humidity or drastic fluctuations in humidity and temperature. It is also important that when handling photos and negatives they be handled along the edges, preferably wearing white cotton gloves, to avoid exposure to the natural oils in your skin. 

If you have an old photo that is stored in an album or has been written on, it is a good idea to photocopy it and make a back up print.  Years ago the ill effects of some common storage methods were unknown. Other methods that have been used in the past and some products that are still being sold commercially to store photos are detrimental to the longevity of your photos, such as the use of glues, rubber cement or tape to mount photos on pages. Storing photos in magnetic photo albums or inexpensive vinyl photo albums while affordable and convenient will eventually damage the photos. It is now known that exposing photographs to materials containing sulfur dioxide, fresh paint fumes, plywood, cardboard and the fumes from cleaning supplies can adversely effect the photographs. Another common cause of damage to photographs is writing on them with a regular pen or marker. Over time the acids in regular inks and papers can eat away at your photo or cause a stain to spread over the image.

You will avoid many deterioration problems if you use only photo approved acid-free pens or markers or a soft lead pencil to write on the back of your photographs. In addition any papers used for storing or displaying photos should be lignin free, acid free un-buffered paper. As for framing photos some experts recommend opting for metal frames and avoiding wood frames as they can give off harmful chemicals that will speed up deterioration. Another thing to keep in mind is that over time a photo that has been framed without the use of a window matt can stick to the glass in the frame thus damaging the photo. Archival approved products such as papers, pens, glues, tapes and plastics can be purchased at your local photo or craft store.  I plan on going into this more in another article that will talk about archiving your valued photographs. Now that we have gone over the importance of photographs and how to avoid deterioration problems it is time to focus on creating our visual family legacy.

Building a Legacy
Building your visual family history can sound daunting but the rewards of creating a visual legacy for your family will make it worth your time. Gathering old photos and the information to go with those photos may take time but each one will add to the richness of your legacy, so don't get discouraged. This will be a work in progress that will take time and continue to grow as long as you continue to gather photos and information. Before you get started you will need to decide just how far back you wish your history to go. Do you want the history to go as far back as you can possibly go, or to start with the current living generations of your family, it is entirely up to you.

Earlier Ancestors
To build a foundation of earlier ancestors for your legacy you may need to ask family members to allow you to scan old photos or give you copies of photos they may have of different family members or special family events. Be sure when you scan the photos to scan them on a photo scanner at a minimum of 300 dpi. Remember to ask your family members about the photos and get any stories they may have concerning the photographs. If you have chosen to go back as far as possible one source for old photos and news clippings is to check with your local Genealogy Society, they may have some that would enrich your own records. When gathering photos try to find some of the family homes, vacation spots, schools, maybe even places they worked. These can all add to the visual history as well as be wonderful sources to jog the memories of family members to enable you to gather stories about places and events that were important to earlier generations. For many reasons there may not be a lot of photos to establish your families early history but don't be dismayed. Between those you are able to collect and oral histories you will most likely be able to build a relatively detailed early history of your family. In next Friday's article "Finding Family Histories the Fun Way" we will discuss how to collect oral histories which when combined with your Visual History create a detailed history for future generations.

Current Generations
While you are collecting past history keep in mind that current events need to be recorded for future generations. Try not to limit this to just special events. Sure you want photos of those special family occasions but your life is more than just a few days of the year. Photograph everyday activities that your family enjoys. For example if your family likes to watch Monday night football, get some pictures of doing just that. Try to capture emotions and unique facial expressions in your photographs. When my youngest daughter became a teenager, I was totally amazed that many of her facial expressions were just like my husbands late sister whom our daughter had never met. I wish now that my mother-in-law had captured some of those expressions in photographs so we could have a visual comparison to show the similarities. Try to get candid shots were the subject doesn't 'POSE' for the photograph. Often when they do pose for a photo to be taken they assume a fake smile or stiff stance and that is not what you want your history to show.

While you are taking pictures also take some of your home inside and out. This will be important especially if you decorate for holidays you will want to show future generations where you lived and what your traditions were. Get pictures of your kids in front of their schools, getting on or off the school bus if they ride one. Pictures of them with their favorite teacher can also be a nice added detail. Don't limit your photos to people only, remember pets and treasured items can also play a big part of showing who and what we are. For example that blue ribbon your son won in the first grade spelling bee or maybe it is your daughters first pair of dance shoes, whatever it may be photograph it. Many times these items and special times that were so important to a family member are forgotten about as time goes by and bit by bit details of our lives fade to just a few special occasions.

You are probably thinking right now that to do as I suggest you will have to have your camera on you 24/7 and will go broke processing and printing film. While I do admit that if you are using a film camera my suggestions would become rather expensive and require you to have your camera at the ready at all times. For this reason I recommend two things; 1. invest in a digital camera. It doesn't have to be fancy with all the bells and whistles just something you can take decent photos with, preferable 3.5 or more mega pixels. 2. If you have or are able get a cell phone with a camera you can use it to catch moments in the spur of the moment when your regular camera may not be handy. Most of the cameras on newer cell phones actually can capture rather good photos.

In addition to the photos you take try to keep a written record for the photos. If you print all the photos this is easily done by writing all the information on the back of the photograph. Remember use only an acid-free pen or marker made for writing on photos or if you do not have one use a soft lead pencil to gently record the information on the back of the photo.  Record not just the names of people but also the dates, times and locations. With digital photos this information can either be added to the file properties or saved in a text file with the image file number to reference the photo. We will cover these more in our upcoming article on digital photo storage and organization.

You may also want to have an additional written record in which you record times and dates of special life events and achievements, and keep track of the family's medical history. This can be done in a notebook or as a document on your computer, or if you prefer you can buy a special book that is designed just for this purpose. We will cover this more in upcoming articles on History Journals and Legacy Albums.

By creating a Visual Legacy to pass on to future generations your great grand-children's knowledge of you will not be limited to name, location and date of birth and death, no they will be able to see those little characteristics that make you different from everyone else. Fun times and special memories will be easily brought to mind, not lost and forgotten with the passing of time. Through the photos and stories you so lovingly gathered future generations of your family will develop a stronger appreciation of and connection to their ancestors. Your printed Visual Legacy can be preserved for up to 100 years when you use archival safe photo products, and thanks to technology creating a digital version can keep your legacy alive for many more. 


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Welcome to Artistic Composition

I want to welcome you to my blog, I am excited to begin sharing and exchanging ideas. The primary focus of this blog will be to share information pertaining to the preservation of memories through the use of my two favorite art forms, photography and writing.  I will be sharing my own ideas, as well as things I have learned and links and sources I have found helpful or interesting. I hope that you will enjoy this information. I encourage you to comment and share your ideas or ask questions. I will also be hosting our companies contests, and keep everyone up to date on upcoming events and specials at Artistix Network L.L.C.

I will be posting articles on topics such as; researching family history, archiving print and digital photographs, candid photography and much more. My first article  entitled " Creating a Visual Family History" will be posted this coming Friday January 14th. I sincerely hope you enjoy reading the article as much as I enjoyed writing the article.