Here’s a letter from a photographer that had a flood in his darkroom. Although you may not have the skills, you can get the services of a photo lab to help you in time of need. Notice also, how he set priorities of things he wants to save.
April 10, 2009,
Nice article I read on your comments about the Italian Earthquake and preparing at home.(www.preservationcoach.com) Listen, I actually have a disaster to save my stuff from. Although it wasn’t an earthquake…..it still was a heartbreak.
My darkroom is here where my mom lives in an old antique house. I haven’t been here for 4 months and so when I walked in the other day I found a big surprise. This winter was the wettest, coldest, grayest, most humid winter since ’81. Somehow it rained through the chimney, soaked through the walls and completely drenched half of the table in my darkroom. On one half was my archived negatives and my enlarger. On the half that got wet, were about 20 rolls of my Vietnam, Cambodia, Australia and other random photos… including their negatives. These were in their little envelope holders but I had not yet archived them in plastic negative sleeve holders that you talk about it your book.
Everything got drenched and as I went through them some of the negatives were still in little puddles of water. One roll (great memories of me and Laura in Vietnam) got completely washed away. It looks like scattered ink now. Luckily most of the negatives were wet but did not loose their “fixing property” meaning the image stayed put.
The ruined photos on paper themselves don’t bother me. Some are ruined, some are wet, some are ok. But if I have the negative I can reprint.
Well, your book advised me to simply rewash the negatives as if I had just developed them. So if they were wet… get them wetter! Obviously I’d have to use the wetting agent etc. This is mainly to wash off the water marks and stains and to assist even drying. So I’m in the process of doing that. They seem much better now.
So, I’ve gone through my first conservation session. I must say my washing, drying and hanging did quite the job, AND I looked professional while doing it, although I won’t be writing a book or publishing articles anytime soon! I thought you might want to hear this to put in your archive of disasters to help others.
BTW, if I have photos that are in ok condition but the negatives are ruined, I will do copywork and simply take a photo of that photo so I can make a new neg.
If you have any advice regarding anything else it would be gratefully accepted. Anyway, best of luck on your projects and book and thanks
My answer to him… 4.10.2009
Sorry to hear about your disaster. I always tell people that a disaster is not necessarily a hurricane or a storm… it can be a leaky roof or a broken water heater. My mom had a box of great family photos stored in the garage and the water heater leaked and pooled around the cardboard box, which soaked in and got the photos wet and stained. Then they dried out and stuck together. She started pulling them apart, ripped them in the process, saw that she wasn’t going to save anything that way and threw them all away!.. and this was after I wrote my book! All she had to do was call me…
You are a good student and did just the right thing to save your stuff. By taking action immediately, you saved the maximum number of photos and negs possible. GREAT job! As you can see, when it comes to saving your stuff, you have to decide on some priorities first.
Regarding the humidity situation, you need a blower or fan leading into the room. Because its a dust sensitive area, you should have an air filter in the mix. Moving air through your darkroom, especially in that old house, will give you the air to dry it out. Moving air through your space is very important. Obviously though, if its 80 % relative humidity outside, it’ll be the same inside unless you get a dehumidifier. The idea of putting the negs in a plastic box is good to protect it from more water infiltrations (which are sure to leak in with the next big storm) but as soon as the temp goes up, your little plastic box will get condensation inside because you trapped high humidity when you sealed it..
There are two things that make humidity levels change: obviously the ambient humidity is important but temperature is the main mover and has a huge effect. If its humid, and the temperature goes up, it gets more humid.
Anyway, congratulations on taking action right away.