Friday, May 22, 2009

The St. Catharines Standard: Some TLC for Standard Photo Negatives

Don Fraser, Standard Staff (with slight modifications by me) link here.

The negatives are priceless vignettes of local life from the late 1950s.  One standout shows then Canadian prime minister Lester B. Pearson grinning at a St. Catharines Legion hall reception.  It's also one of the more damaged of the 600,000 negatives in The Standard collection donated to the St. Catharines Museum in 2007.  The image is crinkly and bubbly, the features of Pearson barely recognizable.

On Thursday, the Canadian Conservation Institute began working on about 200 of the images in need of major restoration.  For the federal government institute, it's the first Ontario site visit doing this kind of work on photo collections.

"This particular batch is an important part of The Standard collection for the museum," said Supervisor Greg, a conservator for the institute. "And it's starting to deteriorate in a significant way.  "It could have been storage conditions, it could have been the manufacturer or a combination of issues. But they're in serious need of work."

Inside a museum basement room, Supervisor Greg and Intern Jessica showed how it's done: a delicate process of separating the negative's silver gelatin emulsion (or image layer) from a deteriorating plastic film base.  After the negative is put in water, a solvent bath dissolves the glue holding the layers together and the gelatin emulsion sloughs off.  That remaining image layer is then scanned, put in a special archival sleeve and stored.  One person can do about three or four images in an hour.  With the help of a $4,000 Niagara Community Foundation grant, private conservator Dorothy McC- will also be helping with the negative treatments.

Museum curator Arden P- described this work as "critical."  "We don't have the financial resources and expertise to be able to do all this in-house," P- said. "These things are dying as we speak and it's so critical to get them treated and scanned.  "It's a long, involved process that can only be done by hand."  The museum and its volunteers have already completed two years of what is anticipated to be a 25-year project of preserving and archiving The Standard's photo collection.

And the accompanying photograph.  This was really nerve-wracking: photographer and reporter and me doing this (which is, like all things, way more difficult that it sounds).  And, to top it off, the negative reacted totally differently than the one Supervisor Greg did the day before.  And in a totally unexpected way too.  But it was okay.


Mum said...

Again your mother is happy...a glimpse of you in action! You are saving important Canadian cultural and historical history.

Ynn said...

Love pictures of the dedicated gitl artist/scientist in action!