We have an enormous collection of photographic negatives and transparencies on glass and film, going back to the 1870s. They include all sorts of images from studio portraits to holiday snaps, landscapes, photographs of sports teams, and artists’ negatives and transparencies.
Many negatives are chemically unstable and, if left in an uncontrolled environment, will deteriorate to the point where you can no longer ‘read’ the image they carry.
Keeping the works cold
A very cold environment helps to preserve them – so we keep our negatives in two walk-in cold storage vaults. One vault is kept stable at 2 degrees Celsius and 35% relative humidity. This vault is used to store negatives and transparencies on a film base. The second vault is kept at 13 degrees Celsius and 35% relative humidity, and is used to store negatives on glass plates.
Within the cool stores, the negatives are stored in lockable drawers for earthquake protection.
Making more space
The existing drawers in our cool store have been filled, so we’ve begun a project to create more storage space. We’ve just finished installing the first group of new drawers, in the film vault.
We decided to move the existing cabinets as well as add new ones. In the new layout, the drawers go up to near ceiling height, except where we need to leave space for the cooling or air filtration plant.
The drawers are heavy as they’re made of steel and are constructed to take a lot of weight. We enlisted the help of our building-management team to get them into the store.
New drawers for slides and colour prints
One of the biggest new cabinets is an oversize drawer unit to hold mounted 35mm slides. Our next job is to transfer thousands of slides from a range of cupboards, drawers, and boxes into the new drawers.
We also want to store our collection of older colour prints in 2-degree storage because they can fade at room temperature. We’ve included a big set of plan drawers for those.
Our next step is to install new drawers and cupboards in the 13-degree vault, where we store glass negatives.
Along the way, we’ll do some small but important projects, like making special card folders (called sink mats) for glass plates that came to us broken. We’ll also be photographing over 1,500 glass plate negatives made by Berry & Co, a Wellington photography studio that operated in the 1910s and 1920s, and adding the images to Collections Online. See more about Berry & Co WWI soldiers in our collection.