Art and Photo Preservation

All art deteriorates over time. That is why the Louvre spends millions to keep the Mona Lisa in a special controlled-atmosphere case. Your art may not be as valuable as a Da Vinci painting, but with proper care, you and your descendants can enjoy it for a long time.

Light is one of the most common contributors to art deterioration. Of course, you want to see your art, but you should keep in mind how much and what kind of light falls on your art. The more indirect the light, the less damage it will do. There are special kinds of glass that can mitigate the effects of light, but they are expensive. Placing your art out of the direct sunlight path from windows is the most economical way to minimize light damage.

At most of our art is in the form of photographs. Traditional photography is a mature technology--my family has black and white and color photographs on display for more than fifty years without significant deterioration--but digitally-derived photos are new and without a "track record." Will prints from your digital camera be viewable in fifty years?

Epson claims that its archival pigment-based inks are good for a hundred and fifty years. That may be true if you put them in a Mona Lisa type case, but in the real world conditions are not always optimal.

My printer, Lighthouse Litho of Cambria, California, uses an Epson R2400 printer and Kelly papers. We recently did a worst-case-scenario test. I took a print and stuck it in a west-facing window. Each month I exposed more of the print so that parts of it were exposed to more and more direct sun. (I used cardboard to shield parts of the print.) Here are the results---on the right is a print that was not exposed to the sun; on the left is the one that was put in the window:

After thirty days, there is considerable fading. After sixty days there is a lot of fading. The fading continued up to the end of the one hundred and twenty day test, but it was slower--the damage had already been done.

The conclusion is obvious: if you want to keep your digital photographs, avoid sunlight!

Click here to return to the XtremeDigitalPhotography front page.