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Archive staff in a race to preserve film

Wairarapa Archive staff are in a race against time as they work to preserve deteriorating nitrate negatives in their collection.

In November last year, archive staff discovered a collection of large format panoramic nitrate film negatives were in an advanced state of deterioration, according to a Masterton District Council report.

Since then, they have been identifying, separating, and storing affected items in cool storage.

Archive staff have identified where the bulk of potential items are and will continue the process of rehousing these, a council spokesperson said.

Through rehousing the nitrate film to cold storage with temperature and humidity control, any further deterioration should be minimal.

The negatives were invented late in the 1800s as an alternative to glass photographic plates and were used widely until the 1950s or later.

“They produce wonderfully high-definition images, but the make-up of the negatives makes them susceptible to degradation – a process that can see images literally drip away,” the council spokesperson said.

“And as they degrade, the negatives can become caustic to the touch, and flammable.

“There’s a reason the Kodak replacement is called ‘safety film’.”

The issue was first identified at the archive when a collection of material deposited in 1998 was found to be dripping when investigated in November.

That prompted archive staff to search records for entries that may indicate nitrate film was present.

“Archive assistant manager Liz Conway has a spreadsheet with around 1500 records on it – one references 34 boxes of records, another 66 negatives, and another just one.

“When found, staff don personal protection equipment and move it to a dedicated refrigerator where it is most safely stored before images can be digitised.”

The Wairarapa Archive is administered by Masterton District Council.

-NZLDR
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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