I’ve had a darkroom since 9th grade. (That’s not my darkroom above, it’s an attempt to dry some negatives in my study). With the advent of digital photography the darkroom has been abandoned, but in the intervening years I took approximately 20,000 photographs, most of which never saw the light of day. The negatives, however, were developed, dried and stored, and are now being digitized. Slowly. Agonizingly slowly.
My Nikon Coolscan V ED negative scanner takes about 2 minutes to turn a black and white negative into a 25 megapixel digital image, and about 5 minutes to render a color negative. The results are pretty impressive: The scanner will capture every nuance of the negative along with every freakin’ scratch, dust speck and fingerprint I happen to leave on it. So I have to clean – and usually re-clean – each strip before inserting it into the scanner.
Not even that is enough for my old negatives. Kodak recommends storing your negatives “in a cool, dry, dark place”, and now I understand why. Under not-so-ideal storage conditions, the film emulsion will retract from the acetate backing, basically leaving you with a mess that sort of resembles a web built by a spider on acid. Most of my negatives going back more than 20 years look like this:
With a little experimentation and before I start scanning a group of negatives I’ve learned to soak them in a very weak and lukewarm Photoflo solution, then squeegee and dry them . The emulsion, after wetting, tends to swell just enough so that the cracks all but disappear. This is the result:
This is an impressive improvement but to my chagrin this is also meticulous work. Emulsion – especially wet emulsion – is notoriously fragile and great care must be taken not to damage the negatives further. So my project, which I thought would take a year or so, is now consuming the better part of most evenings and there is no end in sight.
To date I have only dropped two strips of negatives on the floor. I’m sure that more will follow.