Factors that destroy photographs

Photography is the process of recording pictures by means of capturing light on a light-sensitive medium, such as a film or electronic sensor. Light patterns reflected or emitted from objects expose a sensitive silver halide based chemical or electronic medium during a timed exposure, usually through a photographic lens in a device known as a camera that also stores the resulting information chemically or electronically. Numerous factors can deteriorate and even destroy photographs. Some examples include:

  • High temperature and high relative humidity (RH)
  • Air pollution and dirt
  • Light exposure
  • Biological threats such as fungi and insects
  • Residual processing chemicals
  • Base and emulsion deterioration
  • Handling and usage
  • Improper storage and enclosures
  • Disasters and emergencies

However, an important property of color photographic materials to understand is that they are not permanent and by nature are instable. Chromomeric color photographs, for example, are composed of yellow, magenta, and cyan organic dyes that fade at different rates. Even when in dark storage and enclosed in the proper archival materials, deterioration is unavoidable, but fading, color shifting, and discoloration can be delayed when given the proper preservation care.

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