Picturing Loudoun County Then and Now: Lincoln School and Photography Preservation
This blog is cowritten by Paige Armstrong and Andrea Ekholm from Loudoun Museum.
This week we wanted to present a project that has been in the works at the Loudoun Museum. A binder containing photos taken by John G. Lewis was discovered in our off-site storage building. The photos are of the Virginia towns Purcellville and Lincoln during the mid and late 1970’s. For the project, I wanted to use these photos to compare how the towns looked back then verses how they look now.
The first photo we are going to look at from this collection is of Lincoln Elementary School. The black and white photo was taken on May 5, 1978 while the colored photo was taken on June 2, 2020.
Lincoln Elementary sits on a plot of land that was originally set aside by the local Quaker community in 1757. Multiple schools would be built on this land over the next 200 years. The original school building that sat on the site of Lincoln Elementary, Lincoln High School, burned down in 1926. The new school, that would go on to be built on top of the old high school a year later, would remain a high school until 1955, until Loudoun County High School was built .
With the building of Lincoln Elementary, students would be given the chance for a higher quality education. The new school was fitted with modern chemistry labs, and athletic fields. High salaries were also given, in hopes of attracting excellent teachers. Lincoln Elementary would go on to have additions added onto the building in 1974 and 1989, making more room for students in different grades.
“In 1916, the old Lincoln School was remodeled and elementary students returned there. On April 1st, 1926, the high school building caught on fire. A one story brick building was built on the site and was ready for students to attend the next school year. High school students would remain in this building until 1955, when the new Loudoun County High School opened. The Lincoln High School then became Lincoln Elementary School.”
I choose to look at this photo, because of the recent discussions I’ve heard about the importance of schools in light of the recent pandemic. There is no argument that schools are important centers of learning and knowledge, but in recent months I feel that many have come to see the importance of schools for other reasons. For many working families in this country, schools are a place where parents can send their children while they are away at work. A parent feels confident sending their child to school, because they believe that they will be properly taken care of, while also earning their education.
For others, schools provide food for their children. Many have also come to better appreciate those who are looking after and teaching their children. Being a good teacher isn’t easy. It takes patience and understanding that not everyone is capable of providing. Especially when so much stress has been added to one’s daily life.
With schools abruptly closing the way they did, I believe that many families were hit with a new sense of appreciation for schools and teachers, and just how much they provide for their children.
Photographs are incredible documentary artifacts for museums to help visualize and interpret the past. For individuals, photographs are important and irreplaceable memories of their ancestors and family history. The preservation of these visual records is significant to our collective memory and their lifespan can be significantly increased with the application of a few basic preservation concepts used in museums.
*Please note this blog is referring only to photographic prints, not digital photographs*
Photographic prints have been made through varied processes with multiple material components over the years. Knowing what kind of photograph you have is the first step to preserving it correctly. Daguerreotypes and tintypes, for example, are processed with or printed on metal that is vulnerable to corrosion and oxidation. Colored photograph prints contain organic dyes that are extremely vulnerable to fading in light exposure.
To help identify your prints, see the guide created by the Northeast Document Conservation Center: https://www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/5.-photographs/5.2-types-of-photographs
- Always have clean, dry hands or wear nitrile gloves. Salts and oils on skin can etch and damage the photograph.
- Never touch the surface of the image. Hold the image by the edges or lay flat on a clean board for moving. Having the photograph in a sleeve or album that minimizes handling is preferred- the less you touch it, the longer it will last!
Storage and Display:
- Relative Humidity: Humidity is one of the primary agents of deterioration for photographs. Humidity over 60% can soften photographs and their supports, extremely low humidity can embrittle and crack them, and large fluctuations between high and low can cause warping and separation of the layers of the photograph. High humidity also encourages mold and pests. Aim for 30-50% relative humidity with as few fluctuations as possible.
- Temperature: High temperature accelerates chemical reactions. The rate of deterioration approximately doubles for every 10° F increase in temperature. Aim for 65-70° F or lower. Some photographs, especially color photos, are best preserved in cold storage. This is not a practical option for many due to the fact that cold storage has to be carefully monitored for humidity levels and the photographs have to be protected against the possibility of frost. Speak to a professional before considering this option.
- Light: Light damage is cumulative and irreversible. The fading that occurs to photographs, particularly from ultraviolet light, can be significant and damaging to the structure of the print. Avoid long periods of display especially in direct or intense light. Blinds or shades on the window and UV filtered glass can help minimize damage. If you really want to display one image permanently, consider making a duplicate of it and storing the original for preservation.
- Storage materials: Use high quality paper or plastic enclosures from reputable sources. Avoid: acidic paper, PVC plastic, rubber bands, paper clips, rubber cement, pressure sensitive adhesives, or any albums designated “magnetic” or “no-stick.” Each photograph should have its own sleeve or folder, and boxes should not be overcrowded. Vertical file boxes work well for small photographs (if they are well supported) and larger prints should be stored horizontally by size (with the largest on the bottom).
Library of Congress says this about material types:
- “Paper enclosures must be acid-free, lignin-free, and are available in both alkaline buffered (pH 8.5) and unbuffered (neutral, pH 7) stock. Storage materials must pass the ANSI Photographic Activity Test (PAT) which is noted in supplier's catalogs. Buffered paper enclosures are recommended for brittle prints that have been mounted onto poor quality secondary supports and for deteriorated film-base negatives. Buffered enclosures are not recommended for contemporary color materials. Paper enclosures minimize unnecessary light exposure; are porous; easy to label with pencil; and are relatively inexpensive.”
- “Suitable plastic enclosures are made of uncoated polyester film, uncoated cellulose triacetate, polyethylene, and polypropylene. Note: Photographic emulsions may stick to the slick plastic surfaces of these storage materials at high relative humidity (RH). Plastic enclosures must not be used for glass plate, nitrate, or acetate-based negatives.”
*An important note about cellulose nitrate film: While this blog has not directly addressed negatives or film, if you suspect that you have cellulose nitrate film in your collection, separate it and contact a professional. In production between 1890-1950, this transparent film component is HIGHLY flammable and increasingly dangerous as it deteriorates.*
Photographs are important narrative objects that should be preserved for the enjoyment and education of future generations. While they can be complex objects, they can benefit so greatly from very small preventative actions. All of the resources used here can be found below for your reference and use!
Northeast Document Conservation Center. “5.1 A Short Guide to Film Base Photographic Materials: Identification, Care, and Duplication.” Accessed June 5, 2020. https://www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/5.-photographs/5.1-a-short-guide-to-film-base-photographic-materials-identification,-care,-and-duplication.
Northeast Document Conservation Center. “5.2.1 Types of Photographs, Part 1: 19th and Early 20th Century.” Accessed June 5, 2020. https://www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/5.-photographs/5.2-types-of-photographs.
Northeast Document Conservation Center. “5.3 Care of Photographs.” Accessed June 5, 2020. https://www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/5.-photographs/5.3-care-of-photographs.
14:00-17:00. “ISO 18916:2007.” ISO. Accessed June 5, 2020. https://www.iso.org/cms/render/live/en/sites/isoorg/contents/data/standard/03/19/31940.html.
“Care, Handling and Storage of Photographs - Collections Care (Preservation, Library of Congress).” Web page. Accessed June 5, 2020. https://www.loc.gov/preservation/care/photo.html.
“History / School History.” Accessed June 5, 2020. http%3A%2F%2Fwww.lcps.org%2Fsite%2Fdefault.aspx%3FDomainID%3D7649.
Norris, Debra Hess. “Photographs.” In The Winterthur Guide to Caring for Your Collection, 79–90. Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, Inc., 2009.
Victoria and Albert Museum. “V&A · Photographic Processes.” Accessed June 5, 2020. https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/photographic-processes.