The Rylands’ own collection of photographic stock has been a continuing project for both interns Elaine and Christian. Elaine has been cleaning and rehousing the glass plate negatives into a secure boxed unit. The glass plate negatives can deteriorate very easily due to incorrect humidity and temperature control, this can be seen if the negative is flaking (emulsion) or has a milky tinge to the finish. In the collection there are an estimated 470 original glass plate negatives; they are dusty, dirty and damaged by mould.
Suitable storage space is available for the negatives in the photographic store located off the basement storage. It is important that disposable gloves are worn to handle the glass plate negatives because the emulsion side of the negative is sensitive and finger prints can’t be removed.
Each negative is cleaned using a 60:40 IMS:Water solution. The solution is applied to the glass side of the negative using cotton wool swabs. The emulsion side of the negative is too sensitive to clean. After cleaning and drying each slide is re-housed in a silver safe enclosure. Plastazote is adhered to the reverse of the enclosure to act as a spacer between the slides. Acid free boxes have been made to house the conserved negatives. The boxes are lined with plastazote to protect the glass from damage.
A small number of glass plate negatives are in a poor condition. In some cases the emulsion is peeling away from the glass, these have been consolidated using a 3 % gelatine/water solution applied with a double 00 brush.
The photography side of things is relatively straight forward compared to the preservation. Placing the negatives on a glass surface, the light can then be seen through both the glass surface and the negative giving a suitable image. The image then needs to be inverted through Photoshop to create the correct light, as at the time of digitisation all of the colours are back to front.
No documentation was found with the negatives, and trying to date them has been a challenge. One of the negatives has thrown up some light as to the approximate age through it’s subject matter. The image is of the HMS Doris, an 11 gun cruiser which served within the Boer War. It was commissioned and launched from Barrow, England in 1896. This gives possible clues to the age of them but still does not give an exact date of exposure and nor unfortunately the Photographer.