Preventive Conservation: Display of Photographs

The State Hermitage Museum, December 9, 2010

Bertrand Lavedrine, Director, Centre de Recherche sur la Conservation des Collections (CCRC), Paris.


A fundamental purpose of a photograph is display.  Display also can also pose a fundamental threat to the condition of the photograph.  In some cases display can cause severe and irreversible deterioration.  Light, air quality, temperature, and relative humidity are significant factors that determine the stability of photographs on display. Guidelines established by the Intentional Standards Organization specify acceptable parameters for these variables.  Working within these guidelines requires some basic knowledge of acceptable framing and display strategies as well as an awareness of testing and monitoring practices.  Any display of photographs must incorporate protocols to establish condition, before, during and after display.

  • Overview of standards for:
    • Humidity (definition) and impact on photographs
    • Temperature and influence on life expectancy
    • Pollutants
    • Light
    • Photographic Activity Test

Creation of a microenvironment for display:

    • Evaluation of materials commonly used for display (paper, board, adhesives, paints)
    • Furniture frames, storage boxes and other enclosures
  • Lighting:
    • Light
      • Spectral distribution,
      • Measuring light
    • Light sources and risks
      • Natural
      • Artificial (Halogen, Fluorescent, LEDs)
      • Filters
    • Exhibition of photographs
      • Light damage
      • Monitoring light

Additional Resources

“Environment and Storage.” Safeguarding the documentary heritage – a guide to standards, recommended practices and reference literature related to the preservation of documents of all kinds. UNESCO (2000).

“Standards: ISO, ANSI, BSI and DIN standards relating to the preservation of imaging materials.” Photographic Heritage ELearning/ Photherel. (Source: Train the Trainers. ECPA, CD-ROM developed in the framework of the SEPIA project, 2003). pp. 1-8.

Wagner, Sarah, Constance McCabe and Barbara Lemmen, “Guidelines for Exhibition Light Levels for Photographic Materials,” Topics in Photographic Preservation 9, (American Institute for Conservation, 2001) pp. 127-128.