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Photographs and negatives are composed of three different parts or layers: a support base, a binder, and image material.

  • The support for a photographs or negative may be glass (glass plate negatives), a plastic film (slide negative), metal (a daguerreotype), paper (a photo print), or a resin-coated paper (a digital print). Some plastic negative bases are inherently unstable and will have a negative effect on the life of the image.
  • The binder layer or emulsion holds the final image material to the support and is most commonly gelatin but may also be albumen, collodion, or another material.
  • The final part of a photograph is the image producing material, often silver particles, color dyes, or pigment particles suspended in the emulsion layer.

Working with big photo collections:

  • Consult a conservator early on.
  • Wear gloves to handle negatives.
  • Store in conservation safe materials.
  • Take extra precautions with nitrates.

Photographs and negatives are generally cared for by paper conservators or those who have specialized in photographs and negatives alone.

More Resources (pdf)
Care of Nitrate and Acetate Film
Caring for Photographs

Cleaning Photographic Materials
Scanning Tip Sheet
Digital Imaging Project Documentation

Digitization Links


If you have any questions, .


Preservation Principles

Types of Material

Types of Objects
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   Works of Art
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   Tools / Mechanical / Instruments
   Dishes / Glassware / Silverware
   Native American Items
   Natural History Specimens

More Resources
   Preservation Documents  (pdfs)
   Glossary of Terms
   See what we've done

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