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"Photograph and Video Tape Memories"

Hi, my name is Jonathon Andell. My daughter Rachel Lorraine was born July 13, 1994, and died of SIDS on October 10, 1994. The Arizona SIDS Alliance printed this in their newsletter. I thought maybe you could find a place for it on the sidsnet page. - 2/7/97

Updates and additional information have been added here

reprinted with permission

For those of us who have lost loved ones to SIDS, small comforts are precious. In particular, we treasure the photographs and video tapes of our babies. Because these items will degrade over time, we need to know a few things about preserving them. This article is in two parts. The first deals with still photographs. The second will address video tapes. This is NOT the voice of an expert, but it may be a place to start.

Part 1: Still Photographs

The first thing to know is that prints and negatives are NOT permanent. They all degrade over time. The issue is: what degrades first, and how do we slow the process? The longest-lasting photographic medium is a black-and-white negative. Next comes a color negative, and then black-and-white prints. Color prints fade the fastest (about 20 to 30 years). So what can we do?

First of all, keep your negatives safe - possibly even in a safe deposit box. Heat, light, and humidity all shorten the life of negatives. Unfortunately, some of us may have lost certain negatives already. Now what?

One option is to have a "light oil" painting done, where an artist turns a printed photo into a virtually permanent painting. This can be awfully expensive, but it may be worth it for your absolutely favorite picture.

On a tighter budget, the next best thing is to have "copy negatives" made. This is a fancy term for taking a new picture of a printed photograph. A little detail may be lost, but the negatives still outlast prints. And remember: black-and-white negatives last longer than color. For our formal portrait of Rachel, we made one of each - a color negative and a black-and-white one.

You will want to store and display your prints, of course. It is better to use "acid-free" storage pages, available at better camera stores. They cost a bit more, but they are worth it. The cheaper pages will speed degradation of your photos.

Be wary of those "self-stick" photo albums (like the memory book that we pass around at the support group meetings). They are OK for duplicate prints, but NEVER put your only copy of a print in one of them. The cover sheet eventually will bond to the photo, and you won't be able to separate them without harming the photo.

Finally, here are some simple rules of thumb:

bullet Whether you're taking in prints, negatives, or whatever, don't take them in all at one time. If they get lost, the whole treasure is gone. Break it into several batches, maybe three or four.
bullet Avoid convenience or department stores for processing fancy jobs like copy negatives. Many times these go out of state for processing, with increased risk of loss. It is better to spend a little more at a reputable camera store that does their own work. Next best is a place that uses a local lab.
bullet Check the guarantees before you turn over your precious memories to just anybody.

Part 2: Video Tapes

Now let's discuss video tapes, which also degrade. The first thing to do is to make a back-up copy. You can rent a second VCR for a night, or have a commercial service do this for you. Sometimes they'll do it while you wait, so you have the peace of mind of not being separated from your only copy. Now, store your back-up in a different location from the original: maybe at work, or in a safe deposit box, or with a friend or relative. This is a bit like insurance - if something happens to your home (fire, flood, burglary), you still have a copy that is safe.

Wherever you store any tape, keep it in a vertical position. If the tape lays flat, the edges of the tape will get squished over time. Also, you have to play the tape at least once a year, just to cycle it through the system.

This brings up the issue of how often you will want to play the tape. It is a very personal decision whether you want to view it often, or whether it hurts to play it. From the standpoint of preserving the memento, here is a guideline. If you watch the tape often, play the back-up and store the original, because playing will wear out the tape over time.

No matter how often you choose to watch, once a year you should play and rewind the original and all copies. If it is too painful to watch, simply run the VCR with the TV off. This will make sure that no flat spots develop where the tape sat in one position.

I hope this helps some of us preserve some mementos of our beloved ones. I want to thank Norm and Evelyn Grant, of Grant's Photographic Restorations, Phoenix, Arizona, for their expertise and compassion.

February 6, 1997

I have an update for people with photos of their little ones:

No color prints last more than about 25 years, no matter how they were processed. Color negatives last a little longer, but not all that much. The only way to get "archival" preservation is to do the following:

1. Get a B&W copy negative made. If it's a very special photo, like a portrait or a favorite, pay the cost of having a good professional do it.

2. Have a print made on fiber based black & white print paper (many B&W-looking prints are done on color print paper). If the B&W paper is "resin coated" it will last longer than color, but not forever.

3. The fiber based paper should be "properly washed" during processing. I don't know exactly what that means, but it suggests that we should pay for a good professional to process the job by hand.

Again, if you want a "permanent" color print, you can have a light oil made - essentially a painting of the photo. Again, this is expensive, but may be worth it for that one really favorite shot.

Hope this helps.

Missng Rachel
7/13/94 - 10/10/94

Date: Mon, 18 Jan 1999
From: Mike at CRISP VIDEO
Subject: regarding "Photograph and Video Tape Memories"

I just wanted to add some information regarding your memories page.

Under 'Part 2: Video Tapes' of your "Photograph and Video Tape Memories", I think it would be wise to clarify that you don't need to play a tape every year, you merely have to fast forward it (without engaging the playback heads) and then rewind it again. This is important because if you are not going to view the tape then don't put it through the wear. Also, it would be good to remind everyone to use the write-protect tab and to store tapes away from electrical devices with strong magnetic fields (i.e.: speakers, televisions/monitors, on top of VCRs, etc.)

Good luck,

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