Henry Wilhelm is a well-known authority on preserving photographs. He pretty much wrote the book on the subject, and it is now downloadable for free in PDF format from his website.

In a nutshell:

  • No widespread color process is really archival, unlike black & white
  • Fuji good, Kodak bad

Wilhelm has contributed greatly to making photographs last by raising the public’s awareness of conservation issues, at a time when manufacturers like Kodak were engaging in deliberately deceptive marketing implying that color prints would “last forever”, when they knew the prints would not exceed 10 to 15 years (Fuji has put far more effort in making their materials last).

That said, his simulated aging testing methodology has been criticized as too optimistic, and in one embarrassing instance, Epson Stylus Photo 2000 inkjet photo papers he highly rated for their durability turned out to be very short-lived because they were very sensitive to very common ozone pollution. For an alternative, more conservative, take on inkjet print longevity, Stephen Livick’s website offers a valuable counterpoint.

My take on the subject: I almost exclusively use black & white film because it has a distinct character and is archival without special equipment or active attention. Color film relies on dyes (that fade over time) rather than silver, and fades quickly or suffers from weird color shifts even when kept in the dark. The exception is Kodachrome, which keeps a very long time in the dark despite being also dye-based, but Kodak is not enthusiastic in supporting it and its future availability is uncertain. Given that, it makes more sense to use digital, which has more than caught up in quality, and at least has the potential for lasting images if managed properly (a big if: imagine you were to disappear tomorrow, would your heirs know how to retrieve your digital photos from your computer?).

And of course, I boycott Kodak, a company ruled by bean-counting MBAs whose only concern seems to be how to cut corners in silver content at the expense of product quality, much like Detroit automakers behaved before American consumers wised up to the shoddy quality of their products. Then again, Kodak’s current management is stacked with former HP executives who are turning the company into a HP-wannabe, thus predictably accelerating its slide into irrelevance.