Last night I received two packages: one from Light Impressions, containing some cleaning tools and supplies. Light Impressions seems like a great resource and their catalog of archival supplies is very comprehensive, but I can't say I'm very impressed with their prices. Their prices on storage boxes and papers, sleeves, and envelopes seem reasonable, but these various items seem extremely expensive. I feel like I've been ripped off. They also charged me $20 for shipping and handling, but yet it took over a week to get the materials. I'm keeping an eye out for a source for the same materials that is a little more competitive on service and price. I'd love to actually support a local store if I could find one that stocked the boxes, sleeves, and albums that Light Impressions carries.
Anyway, I received two cleaning brushes, an anti-static cloth for cleaning transparencies, PEC cleaning fluid and non-abrasive tissues, a pH-testing pen, a slab of pH-neutral rubber eraser for cleaning prints, and a tin of wax which can supposedly be used to clean and protect prints. I'm a bit uncertain about all this stuff, but if some of it can help me get a cleaner scan and preserve the materials a little bit, I'll go ahead and give it a shot.
I also received the books on scanning and digital darkroom techniques from Amazon.
I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed! There is a great book about digital restoration of damaged and faded photos but it is a massive tome that goes into extreme detail with hundreds of examples. The author Ctein has a huge arsenal of techniques he has used for dealing with all different kinds of problems.
I was planning at this stage to just make as good a scan as possible of the original and deal with the image files later. That is still a reasonable plan, but it turns out there are a lot of issues involved in just getting a good scan to work with.
For example, some of the prints develop a "sheen" which I think comes from silver migrating to the surface of the emulsion. They look almost like they are printed on foil. The scanner can have a difficult time with these because the surface is very reflective.
There is an arsenal of techniques for getting better scans. Among them is scanning black and white prints in color, instead of grayscale, on the grounds that one of the channels will inevitably get better information than the others.
One of the interesting techniques Ctein recommends for solving some particular problems is not to use a flatbed scanner at all, but to set up a copy stand and take a high-resolution digital photograph of the original. Then the issue becomes all about just how you light it -- with polarized light at certain angles, etc. Complicated!
Then, if I'm going to make prints myself, it brings up the whole topic of color management. Doing that well requires a really good monitor, with a hood. Room lighting has to be color-neutral. You need a colorimeter to calibrate it. You need a proofing light to inspect prints. At the moment, I've barely got a square foot of usable desk space!
So I have to think carefully about what is "good enough" -- what will give the best preservation for a reasonable cost. I think spending money on the input devices -- the scanner and maybe a better digital camera -- is definitely a no-brainer, since that determines what all the other steps have to work with. Maybe I should let go of the idea of making high-quality prints at home, at least for now. Maybe a reasonable solution would be to make a homemade hood for the iMac monitor and calibrate it and then plan to do printing via a service bureau and hope for the best.
At this point I should mention that I would gladly accept contributions from family members who might like to assist with the organizing, scanning, preserving, restoration, and distribution effort!