Fine Art Photography, Black and White Prints

Reference: Archival Considerations

The idea is of archivability is an important on
e in the world of photography, it is the hope that our images will long out live us. It is an important aspect for collectors as well because they want to feel secure in their investment. For these reasons, the term “Archival” has become a buzz word in the photographic world. It imparts an air of distinction. And while there are certainly materials and process that are more archival (i.e. acid-free mats and adhesives, fiber papers, proper fixing and washing, toning), it is difficult to quantify the point at which something becomes archival. One can only maximize the life of the print in its particular environment. Materials and processes that inhibit or do not contribute to the deterioration of the photograph may generally be considered archival.

The primary factors influencing the longevity (archivability) of a print are residual byproducts, stability of the silver complexes and environment.

Residual processing byproducts of concern are hypo (fixer) and the residual silver complexes. Insoluble silver complexes must be converted to soluble forms in order to be washed free from the paper. Extended fixing can lead to excessive amounts of the fixer complexes and silver ions imbedded in the paper which can be difficult to remove. On the other hand, insufficient fixing can lead to residual undeveloped silver halides in the emulsion which will darken or change color over time and destroy the image. Hypo-clearing agents can be used to convert the remaining complexes to a radical form which is more efficiently washed from the paper by the polar water molecules.

The stability of the silver image can be enhanced by the formation of a more stable silver compound such as silver-selenide (selenium toning) or silver-sulfide (sepia toning). These compounds are more resistant to deterioration than standard metallic silver.

The environment of the print can dramatically effect the longevity of a print. Exposure to pollutants (like smoke and chemical fumes, or sulfur in the adhesives) will accelerate the deterioration of the silver image. Acid in the adhesives, mat board or other mounting materials will deteriorate the paper itself, though it should be mentioned that some types of prints, such as color or gum prints, may be adversely effected by buffered (high pH) materials. Radical fluctuations in temperature or humidity accelerate deterioration as well. Exposure to UV light can also accelerate the degradation of the print, UV-shielded glass or acrylic minimizes the effect.

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