B&W Fine Art Collectors Guide
To Archival Permanence, Print Care, and Handling
The topic of archival permanence and image stability of fine art photographic prints surfaces amongst professional collectors from time to time, so I wanted to guide you on these matters and offer my perspective and first-hand experience.
Before sharing specific details about archival permanence and print care, I want to start with a simple and profound statement.
The only artwork that is proven to be archival is cave paintings.
While that statement seems funny, everything else will need to be proven over the coming decades and centuries.
Silver gelatin prints are about as close as you can get to proof because it is the only photography medium with over 150 years of proven history. Fine art buyers and collectors continue to trust silver gelatin prints because of this history and proven track record.
Contemporary methods still need to be confirmed over the next century before we have any form of proof. Lab simulations are not proof in my mind. They may sound funny or strange, but it is true.
Remember, it is easy to make claims when all parties involved will not be living to ensure the claims are true and accurate. I suspect contemporary photography manufacturers' claims that suggest hundreds of years of archival permanence. I think this is a lot of marketing propaganda used as a sales tool.
I encourage you to buy new art because you love it and take some extra steps, which I outline below to make sure the artist is transparent with you regarding materials used and expectations regarding archival permanence.
The vast majority of people purchase art because they love it or it has a special meaning to them, not because it may last for centuries.
If you are only concerned with archival permanence as your sole purchasing criteria, you should purchase platinum prints exclusively. While we only have a history of platinum prints dating back to the mid 19th century, in theory, they can last as long as the cotton paper they are printed on. We know from other paper documents in history that it could be a very long time. You can review my Platinum Collectors Guide if you want more details.
THE BOTTOM LINE FOR MY ART BUYERS & COLLECTORS
There are two key factors concerning image stability and archival permanence of fine art prints on any substrate (i.e., cotton, fiber, resin-coated).
First, the photographer must follow proper archival procedures that directly relate to removing unwanted by-products from the silver or platinum processes. These undesirable by-products interact with the atmosphere and can negatively impact prints.
The second and most significant influencers of how long any photographic art will last are the storage and display conditions (i.e., temperature, humidity, light, and handling). That is why I include a section on this information below.
For maximum permanence, I suggest having a professional frame shop dry mount your fine art print following the mounting tissue's proper heating and pressure guidelines. Long-term tests indicate dry-mounted prints fare better than hinge or corner mounted prints because the dry mount tissue acts as a barrier to pollutants absorbed by the mount board and then transferred to the image.
I dry mount smaller prints up to 16x20 before shipping to my buyers. I roll the prints between two acid and lignin-free tissues for larger artwork and carefully place them in an oversized tube for shipment.
I take a straightforward and clear position with my black and white fine art prints.
When you buy one of my limited edition fine art prints on any substrate, I guarantee that print looks like the day you purchased it for the rest of your life so long as they follow my handling and care guidelines.
Any claims beyond this are marketing propaganda.
I take every known and reasonable care during the image creation process to ensure the long-term performance of my artwork. Once the art leaves my studio, the environment displayed and stored becomes the more critical determinant of the artwork's permanence.
PRINT CARE, DISPLAY, & HANDLING TIPS
WHAT IS PRINT PERMANENCE?
Print permanence refers to the longevity of printed material and preservation issues.
Over time, the optical density, color balance, luster, and other qualities of a print can and will degrade.
The rate at which deterioration occurs depends primarily on two main factors: the print itself, that is, the colorants used to form the image and the medium on which the image resides, and the type of environment the print is exposed to.
To achieve a long lifespan, analog silver-based prints must be thoroughly fixed and washed bare minimum. Besides rendering the image insensitive to further light exposure, the fixer converts undeveloped silver salts in the emulsion into products that can easily be washed away. Effective fixing and washing removes all unexposed silver salts and leaves only a tiny residual fixer. Any significant quantity of fixer (thiosulphate) left in the print after washing will cause the image to deteriorate over time.
Many other factors play a critical role in the long-term stability of silver prints. The temperature and relative humidity of the storage environment and the air pollutants exposed to a silver image are three critical factors.
Toning can increase the longevity of silver-based prints by replacing or coating the metallic silver with more inert metals such as gold, silver sulfide, or selenium.
CARE & HANDLING GUIDELINES
To achieve museum-quality standards is much more than using the right paper.
I follow the same time-proven methods as documented by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston to ensure each of my silver gelatin limited edition prints meet this very strict criterion.
For artwork up to 16x20, I dry mount the print on a 100% cotton, acid, and lignin-free mounting board with a window mat that is hinge-taped using archival linen tape. I title, date, and sign the window mat to complete your artwork.
For larger prints, I roll the prints between two acid and lignin free tissues and carefully place in an oversized tube for shipment. Upon receipt of the new artwork, I recommend taking the new artwork to a professional frame shop and having them dry mount the print to the same type of mount board as described above this paragraph and then following the additional suggestions included below.
To help resist environmental hazards associated with displaying your new artwork, a UV protective glass or plexiglass glazing should be used, often referred to as museum glass.
If you choose to store your prints versus displaying them, maintaining relative humidity between 30% and 50% is advisable and room temperature should not exceed 85F/29C. I certify all of my limited edition fine art prints are masterfully handmade by me in my darkroom and no part of the process is outsourced to any other party. I only use the highest quality materials to meet museum quality standards and I take great care to follow the time-proven archival methods dating back to the 19th century.