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Information Management - Information Matters

Managing Photographic Records in the Government of Canada

Table of Contents



What is a Photograph?
Scope of this Handbook
Legislation and Policy
Legal Ownership of Photographs
Roles and Responsibilities for Managing Photographs


Organizing Photographs

File Location
Volume and Growth of the Collection
Use of Photographs
Separating Photographic Formats

Numbering Photographs

Chronological Numbers
Mnemonic Numbers
Collective Numbers

Labelling Photographs
Describing Photographs

Descriptive Standards and Practices
Item-level Description
Collective-level Description
Related Documentation

Subject Files and Indexes
Retrieval Systems

Card Index
Caption Sheets
Automated Retrieval
Videotape, Videodisc and Digital Imaging


Handling Guidelines
Storing Photographs

Storage of Prints
Storage of Slides
Storage of Negatives
Storage of Glass Plates

Storage Environment

Storage Area
Temperature and Relative Humidity

Special Considerations

Cellulose Nitrate Negative Film
Cellulose Acetate Negative Film

Disaster Preparedness

Essential Records


The Information Life Cycle
Active Photographic Records
Dormant Photographic Records
A Planned Approach
Archival and Historical Photographic Records
Records without Enduring Value

Multiple Copies
Transitory Records
Destroying Photographic Records

Need Advice?



The National Archives of Canada acquires, preserves and makes available records of national significance. The Archives also provides a comprehensive program that helps federal government institutions and ministers' offices manage their records.

The program includes advice on standards and practices for the management of information; training to upgrade the information management skills of government employees; management and protection of government information through a national network of records centres; and, finally, direction and assistance in planning the disposition of institutional records.

To ensure that there is a consistent approach to information management within the government, the National Archives investigates the impact of emerging technologies, develops standards and practices, and produces technical handbooks.

Managing Photographic Records in the Government of Canada is one of a series of handbooks on records and information management. The author is Kathleen Owens, who benefited from the advice of experts in photography and conservation at the National Archives of Canada. Any comments or questions about this handbook or about other information management issues are welcome. Please address your remarks to:

Government Information Management Office
Library and Archives Canada
Telephone: 819-934-7519
Fax: 819-934-7534


In the Government of Canada, departments and agencies generate, collect and use great quantities of visual information, in photographic form, that is crucial to their everyday business. Untold numbers of these photographs exist throughout government and constitute a valuable source of information on federal policy, administration, activities and programs. Although used by government institutions for more than a century, photographs are often not recognized as government records and are traditionally not included in departmental inventories and information management programs.

Increasingly, government institutions are becoming aware of the need to manage their information in all media, including photographs. With over 15 million photographs in its own holdings, the National Archives of Canada has developed Managing Photographic Records in the Government of Canada in order to provide departments and agencies with general guidelines on the organization, handling, storage and disposition of their photographs. This handbook is directed at all federal employees involved in the creation, use and maintenance of these records. Its primary purpose is to promote the good management of photographic records in the Government of Canada so that institutions can meet their own information needs and, at the same time, ensure the survival of government photographs of enduring value.


In Chapter 1, the policies and legislation affecting the management of photographic records are outlined, along with the responsibilities of government institutions. Chapter 2 describes, in a general fashion, the kinds of organization systems useful for arranging and describing photographic materials. Chapter 3 contains advice on the handling and medium-term storage of government photographs in order to ensure their survival. Information on the disposition of government photographs is covered in Chapter 4. Throughout this publication, selected words appear in boldface and are repeated in a glossary in Appendix A to help those unfamiliar with some of the photographic and information management terms used in the text. The appendices also include a bibliography of works consulted and a list of information sources on the management of photographs.



Engineer's Camp (Survey). Sheguiandah, Manitoulin Island, Ontario. September 1885.

Engineer's Camp (Survey). Sheguiandah, Manitoulin Island, Ontario. September 1885. Henry A. Gray. Department of Public Works/National Archives of Canada/PA-122522

Since the 1850s, the Government of Canada has used photography to help fulfil the mandates and carry out the operations of its many institutions. Early photographers recorded the first official activities of the fledgling federal government as it constructed the Parliament buildings, explored Canada's uncharted territories and surveyed for the Canadian Pacific Railway. As the technology evolved, the usefulness
of photography as an operational tool became apparent in many areas of government. Today, the applications of photography are extensive - government photographs inform the public about federal programs through publications and exhibitions, fulfil administrative needs in institutions, provide legal evidence and document federal programs, support the work of scientists, surveyors and inspectors, and serve a broad range of other administrative,
operational and policy needs.

Examples of government photographs include the following:

  • press and publicity stills
  • illustrative material in publications and exhibitions
  • historical photographs
  • portraits of government officials
  • records of special events, visiting dignitaries, awards ceremonies and other activities
  • identification and security passes
  • seminar and training aids
  • x-rays, aerial photographs and infra-red photographs
  • prints used as legal evidence and program documentation.

In the daily operations of government, photographs, provide visual information in support of the activities, programs and policies of federal departments and agencies. All photographs are records and, like any memorandum, letter or electronic file connected to government business, they must be organized, preserved and scheduled for disposition according to good information management principles. Through the management of their photographic records, government institutions can meet their own information needs, fulfil legislative and policy requirements and help to preserve the corporate memory of the Government of Canada. Therefore, an essential task for every government institution is managing its current photographic records.

What is a Photograph?

A photograph is a still image, in black and white or colour, which is made visible by the action of light (visible, infra-red, ultraviolet or x-ray) on photosensitive chemicals. Photographs generally consist of a support (such as paper, glass or film) which is coated with an emulsion or image-bearing layer.

Scope of this Handbook

Photographs are produced in a wide array of sizes and technical formats and it is likely that government institutions will possess many types of photographs. The recommendations in this handbook apply to the contemporary still photographic formats most commonly found in departments and agencies. The following formats are included:

  • black and white and colour prints (on resin-coated and fibre-based papers)
  • colour instant prints (e.g., Polaroid)
  • aerial photographs
  • black and white and colour slides and transparencies
  • negative film in sheet and roll form
  • glass plate negatives.

The products of nineteenth-century photographic processes such as albumen prints, collodion glass plates, daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and tintypes require specialized care. Government institutions that possess any photograph from this period should contact the National Archives of Canada for specific information on its preservation.

A number of other photographic media popularly used in government institutions are not covered by this handbook. The following formats are not included:

  • motion picutre films
  • microfilm and microfiche
  • electronic imaging systems (videotape, still video, optical disc).

For advice about the management of information on any media outside the scope of this handbook, please contact the National Archives of Canada at 613-947-1518.

Legislation and Policy

Whatever their form, photographic materials under the control of government institutions must be managed in accordance with Canada's existing information laws and policies. Some of the legislation
relevant to the management of photographs is listed below.

National Archives of Canada Act (1987)
Government photographs are included under the provisions of the National Archives of Canada Act (1987) which prohibits the destruction of government and ministerial records or their removal from the control of the government without the consent of the National Archivist. Institutions are also required under section 6(1) of this Act to transfer photographs determined to be of historical or archival importance to the National Archives in accordance with schedules or agreements.

Management of Government Information Holdings Policy (MGIH)
Encompassed by Treasury Board's definition of "information holdings," photographs are included in the administrative policy Management of Government Information Holdings. According to this policy, government institutions are required to manage their photographic records throughout their life cycle and account for them in a corporate inventory of information holdings.

Access to Information Act (1983)
The Access to Information Act gives the public the right to see most information of records held by the federal government. Photographic collections must be adequately described to permit access by the public.

Privacy Act (1983)
The Privacy Act gives individuals access to any of their personal information held by the federal government and protects their privacy. Provisions of this Act must be applied where photographs contain personal information, such as medical x-rays.

Emergency Preparedness Act
Through the Essential Records Program, the Emergency Preparedness Act ensures the survival of records vital to the conduct of government. For more information, see Chapter 3, Preservation of Photographic Records.

Government Security Policy
The Government Security Policy safeguards classified or designated information held by the federal government. Operational standards must be applied for the physical security of information in photographic form.

Legal Ownership of Photographs

It is important to remember that all photographs collected or created by a government institution are the property of the Government of Canada and, like other government records, must be included in the information management program of that institution. Crown ownership applies to photographs created with government funds, materials or equipment, either by government employees or by contracted photographers, unless otherwise specifically stated in contracts or agreements. In instances where private agencies or individuals have created photographic records for government institutions, it is essential yo preserve original contracts so that the physical ownership, copyright and other legal conditions for these records will be known.

Roles and Responsibilities for Managing Photographs

Within a government institution, many individuals can play a role in the management of photographic records. It is important for all staff, including senior managers, information management staff, photo librarians and custodians, creators and users, to be aware of the legislation, policies and practices that apply to photographic records. Those employees who work in physical contact with photographs should be familiar with the handling and storage guidelines that will prolong the life of photographic records. The main responsibilities of a government institution can be outlined as follows:

  • Locate all photographic records in the institution.

    Knowing what photographic information an institution has and where to find it is the first step towards effectively managing these records. Government institutions should endeavour to locate all collections of photographs - large and small, active and dormant - and should include these records in their corporate inventory of information holdings. When not stored in a central repository, photographic records can be found in many areas throughout a government institution. They are, however, most likely to be used in the following operational areas:

    • communications, public programs, media relations
    • historical, directorates, libraries, documentation centres
    • research and development, grant and project offices
    • professional development and training.

    Look for photographs that are kept in albums, special image files or interfiled with paper records. Individual photographs may also be found on display in government offices and exhibitions. A good inventory will also list the related documentation that explains the context of these photographs, their uses and relationship to government programs and activities. Original contracts, model releases, field notebooks, indexes, finding aids, caption sheets and press releases can provide valuable information that helps to identify photographic records.

  • Organize all photographic records in a classification system.

    A sound records classification system enables the quick retrieval and accurate identification of government photographs. See Chapter 2, Organizing Photographic Records, for information on methods of arranging and describing photographic materials.
  • Ensure minimum standards for the storage and handling of photographic records.

    The integrity and survival of photographic records depends upon adequate storage conditions and safe handling practices. See Chapter 3, Preservation of Photographic Records, for detailed advice on storing and handling photographic records.
  • Schedule photographic records for retention and disposition.

    Planning the life cycle of photographs helps government institutions to manage their dormant records effectively and to ensure that records of archival or historical value will be preserved by the National Archives. For more information and instructions about the disposition provess, see Chapter 4, Retention and Disposition.



Every government institution must be able to identify and retrieve its records. This is especially important for photographs because, unlike textual records, their information content is not always immediately apparent. Although the scientist who created the photograph to the right can easily identify its content, most people need to read the caption. Uniform classification systems help employees to understand the information contained in a visual record. Numbering and indexing photographic records also facilitates their quick retrieval, prevents unnecessary handling of fragile materials and allows the tracking of circulating records. Some of the same basic methods and principles of organizing paper records can also apply to photographs. This chapter will offer information managers and photo custodians some general advice on organizing photographic records in their institution.

Photograph of a diatom taken by a scanning electron microscope.

Photograph of a diatom taken by a scanning electron microscope. A diatom is a microscopic plant which is a useful indicator of the acid-alkali balance of its environment. Ottawa. Ontario. n.d. D. Walker. Geological Survey of Canada, Energy, Mines and Resources/PA-156416

Organizing Photographs

Organizing photographs in a government institution can involve many tasks, such as choosing where to keep them, selecting a classification scheme, assigning control numbers, writing descriptive captions and creating finding aids, indexes and other retrieval mechanisms. Many classification systems that have been developed for organizing photographs in archives, libraries and photography studios may also serve the information manager or photo custodian in a government department or agency. A good organization system is one that effectively meets the institution's needs, safeguards the materials from unnecessary damage and is easy to use. Selecting an appropriate system depends upon a thorough knowledge of the kinds of photographic records in the institution and how they are used. Consider the following points.

File Location

In most government institutions, photographic records will be found throughout operational areas, interfiled with paper records, displayed on walls, or maintained in distinct collections. Centralizing all of an institution's photographic records in one repository is an option that information managers may wish to consider. A centralized file location allows information management personnel to control the situation of originals and copies, employ a uniform classification system, maintain the storage conditions required for photographic records and facilitate their disposition. For large departments and agencies, however, a centralized file location is often impractical and autonomous photographic collections will be better situated in individual offices until the records become less active. Centralized control of photographs can still be maintained if custodians and information managers ensure that all photographic records, regardless of their storage location, are included in a records classification system and are accounted for in the institution's inventory of information holdings.

Volume and Growth of the Collection

The size of a photograph collection (a small collection would be under 2,000 items; a medium collection from 2,000 to 10,000 items; and a large one over 10,000 items) and its rate of growth are important considerations in deciding where to store the collection, how much description is practical and what kind of retrieval system will be most efficient. Numbering systems for dynamic collections must be able to accommodate additions and deletions.

Use of Photographs

Some photographic records will readily lend themselves to a particular classification system because of their function. Aerial photographs, for example, are used as maps and by convention are arranged according to precise systems of flight line indexing or co-ordinate grids. For photograph collections that have a single use or purpose, their organization is often self-evident: for example, identification photographs or medical x-rays should, logically, be filed under the name of the individual. In situations where photographic records are closely linked to particular programs or projects in an institution, such as photographs illustrating a construction report, it may be possible to adapt the existing classification system for textual records in order to include such photographs.

Many photographic records, especially those in information, publicity or educational collections, are multi-purpose and so diverse in subject matter that conventional subject headings for paper records are not relevant. The access needs of the users is a primary concern. Classification systems must be flexible enough to allow retrieval from a variety of avenues, such as subject, title or file number.

Separating Photographic Formats

When institutions possess a variety of photographic materials, such as slides, prints and negatives, separating them by format will allow the most effective use of specialized storage areas or containers. In order to ensure that valued records are given optimal physical care and ensure control over their use, it is also a good practice to file negatives separately from prints, and original materials separately from duplicates. Before separating materials for storage, number items so that users will be able to locate a print and the corresponding negative.

Numbering Photographs

The order in which photographic records are physically stored can be based on any one of many criteria. The greatest control over a collection of photographs is exerted when each image possesses a unique file number that indicates its precise location within the classification system. Numerical ordering systems allow individual records to be easily retrieved and refiled, are compatible with automated retrieval systems and are understandable in any language. The retrieval limitations of a numerical ordering system can be overcome: subject indexes and other finding aids allow users access to records when the file number is not known.

Chronological Numbers

In a chronological file, photographs are numbered in the order in which they are created or acquired. Since each file number is merely sequential and has nothing to do with the content of the photographic record, this system is particularly useful for photographic collections which are very diverse in subject matter. The ability to integrate new materials easily makes this a practical system for collections that are continually growing. Chronological files require the maintenance of a master list in which the basic information about each image (e.g., source, date, subject) is logged beside its file number. Subject indexes and cross references must also be created to enable retrieval of photographic records by criteria other than the chronological number.

Canadian soldier posing for photo to be used as basis for poster. 1941.

Canadian soldier posing for photo to be used as basis for poster. 1941. Photographer unknown. Department of National Defence/National Archives of Canada. PA-142683

Mnemonic Numbers

A variation of the chronological system, mnemonic numbers reveal information about the image in addition to its location within the file. For example, the numeric prefix "92" could be assigned to a file number in order to tell users that the photograph was taken in 1992. Incorporating dates into the numbering system is a useful practice, since it wil also help the disposition process by automatically identifying older records. Mnemonic codes made up of numbers, letters or alphanumeric combinations may be used to indicate any kind of information about the image - program, subject, geographic location, format, source of the record or photographer - that is considered important. It is essential to keep coding simple; mnemonic codes should evolve from a real need to store photographic images in a particular order. The example to the right shows a government photograph with its mnemonic file number. Remember, however, to write the file number outside the image area.

Collective Numbers

Since photographs are often take in groups, assigning a collective number to multiple related photographs can also be a useful practice. An existing program or job number or even the photographer's roll number can be used as the ordering principle in instances where this is the most likely retrieval key. Since multiple photographs would fall under the same number, individual images should be given a number or letter as a further filing designation. For example, if a film containing 24 exposures of a single subject was given the collective number 91-566, individual shots could be identified by their frame numbers as 91-566-01, 91-566-02, 91-566-03 - on up to 91-566-24. Additional details about each job (e.g., date, location, photographer) should also be recorded next to the collective number in an accompanying register.

Labelling Photographs

Photographic materials should be permanently marked with their file number to ensure correct identification. Using a porous-tip film-marking pen, number single negatives in the upper corner of the margin on the base side (shinier side) of the film. Label the filing enclosure with the corresponding number, in the same position. A page filing system for slides or roll negative strips requires a single identification number on each page. For prints, mark the file number on the back of the image, along the border, with an HB pencil. Always label prints lightly: excessive pressure or a sharp point on the pencil will leave a permanent imprint on the image surface of the photograph.

Describing Photographs

Preparing a description, which involves noting standardized pieces of information about the content of a photographic record, is a valuable activity that enhances the usability and future research value of government photographs. Within government departments and agencies, efforts should be made to ensure that all photographic records are given at least a basic description by their creators or the employees most familiar with their contents. Understandably, the degree to which a photographic collection is described will depend not only upon user needs, but on time and resources. It may be that certain items (e.g., only published photographs) will be described at the item level while others will rely on a collective description to provide the necessary context. Remember that undescribed photographs often become unidentifiable as time removes them from the context in which they were created. A photograph that is not identifiable has little or no value to the institution or to future researchers.

Descriptive Standards and Practices

Photograph custodians in government institutions may find it useful to consult the various standards, guidelines and methods that have been developed for the description of photographic materials by archives and libraries. In Canada, the Bureau of Canadian Archivists has issued a draft chapter on the description of graphic materials under the framework of their Rules for Archival Description. Other useful standards include the ISBD (NBM) International Standard Bibliographic Description for Non-Book Materials and Chapter 8 of the revised Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules. Both works are available through most government libraries.

Item-level Description

In addition to a file number, a descriptive caption for individual photographs ensures accurate identification of records at the item level. This caption reveals the content and context of the image by supplying basic information, such as date, location, subject (event, names of people, program, activity), photographer and copyright. A good caption answers these questions:

  • Who took the photograph?
  • What is it a picture of?
  • When was it taken?
  • Where was it taken?
  • Why was it taken or collected?

Government institutions should adopt a consistent format for their photograph captions. Do not try to attach captions to photographs or write too many details on the back of prints or their filing enclosures; store this descriptive information separately in a caption sheet, index or file.

Joey Smallwood signs agreement admitting Newfoundland into Confederation. Ottawa, Ontario. December 11, 1948.

Joey Smallwood signs agreement admitting Newfoundland into Confederation. Ottawa, Ontario. December 11, 1948. Photographer unknown. National Film Board/National Archives of Canada/PA-128080

Collective-level Description

Groups of photographs related by subject or program activity are often described at the collective level. The key information to be recorded includes file number ranges, date range, source or photographer(s), copyright, location(s) and subject(s). Collective-level descriptions are useful for compiling a comprehensive inventory of the institution's photographic holdings.

Related Documentation

It is also important to record the links that exist between photographs and related paper documentation, such as program files, newspaper clippings and press releases. In cases where the related photographs and paper files are stored separately, label photograph enclosures with the number of the textual file that will provide context for the photograph.

Subject Files and Indexes

Like paper records, photographs can be classified by their principal subject in order to group related records, either physically or intellectually. Consider using a subject file if there is an operational need to keep related photographs together in the same location. If users want to compare many images of a specific project or personality, keeping related photographs together will ease their retrieval and reference. In a subject file, an individual photograph usually does not have a unique file number but is assigned a subject heading (and sometimes subheading) that allows it to be returned to the correct file containing similarly classified images. A subject index serves the same function by intellectually grouping related photographs in a collection that is numerically arranged. With a subject index, users gain access to a collection by looking up the file numbers listed under the desired subject heading.

Assigning a subject heading to a visual record can be more difficult than for textual records. Where photographic collections are varied in subject matter, employees should use subject headings specifically designed for visual materials. The Library of Congress Thesaurus for Graphic Materials can be a useful source of subject headings that can be easily tailored to the unique characteristics of a particular collection. Remember to avoid creating overly detailed subject headings.

Retrieval Systems

Once photographs have been numbered, described and file into a classification system, they must be retrievable by users. Effective retrieval systems allow the quick location of records with minimum handling of fragile materials. Retrieval mechanisms consist of some kind of finding air or index that provides intellectual access to photographic records. For example, a photograph collection of Canadian military aircraft may be arranged numerically, but a researcher may find it easier to locate a picture of a Lancaster Bomber by looking it up in a subject index. The needs of the users should dictate what kinds of retrieval mechanisms are created. Retrieval mechanisms take many forms, including card indexes, caption sheets and automated software.

Card Index

A card index is a manual retrieval system that works relatively well for small collections of photographs. The file number and descriptive information are recorded on a standard size card (3"x5") which is then placed in a master file, organized by number or subject. Secondary cards are created for other aspects of the photograph (location, photographer, etc.) And filed under appropriate indexes. Many card index systems also incorporate a contact print or a reduced photocopy of the image, mounted on the index card, so that users can readily examine the content of the photograph without handling the original record.

Caption Sheets

Caption sheets allow users to scan descriptive information about the photograph collection in a portable binder. Since caption entries are generally listed chronologically, caption sheets are best suited to small photograph collections.

Automated Retrieval

Automated retrieval systems are a practical option that has replaced card indexes for medium- and large-sized photographic collections. Computerized indexes are faster and more flexible than manual indexes and can provide access from a variety of points, depending upon how many information fields can be searched. Like any record classification system, most photographic collections can be easily handled on a personal computer or mainframe using commercial database software, such as dBase, or a software package specifically designed for managing photographs. Consult the computer specialist within your institution to find out how a photographic database can be integrated with other information systems currently in use.


For fragile or valuable photograph collections, microfilming original photographs is another option that combines both the pictorial content and descriptive information in a retrieval system. Users can scan both the pictures and captions on microform without handling the original records. It should be remembered that, in the case of photographs, microfilm copies do not replace the original records but merely provide visual access to a collection. Photographs that have been microfilmed cannot be destroyed without the authorization of the National Archivist.

Videotape, Videodisc and Digital Imaging

In recent years, sophisticated retrieval systems using videotape, videodisc and digital imaging technologies have been developed and adopted by a number of large photo repositories. Scanning or recording photographic records will allow departments to protect originals from excessive handling and will offer many advantages for the user: quick visual access to a collection, enhanced presentation on monitors, and, in some cases, the ability to manipulate the electronic image. Photograph collections which are large and are used frequently will benefit most from these advanced retrieval systems. Collections that constantly need updating or are rarely used will likely not warrant the expense.



Because of their chemical composition and physical nature, photographs are fragile records whose preservation requires special conditions. And yet, while they are not permanent, some photographs have survived for over 150 years! The lifespan of a photograph can be determined by many factors, including its inherent chemical stability and processing, how it is handled and stored, and the external environment. A number of hazards can hasten its destruction. Ultraviolet light, fingerprints, wood, acidic papers, newsprint, some adhesives and inks, dust, dirt, chlorinated plastics, high temperatures, extremes of humidity, and atmospheric pollutants may all contribute to the degradation of the image, diminishing the informational and artifactual value of the photographic record over time.

Examine the photographic materials in your institution. Could any item be described as:

  • faded, silver mirrored or discoloured?
  • curled or rolled?
  • stapled, paper clipped or glued?
  • scratched, creased, torn or otherwise mutilated?
  • fingerprinted, stained, dirty or water damaged?
  • cracked or shrunken? (negatives)
  • peeling or lifting? (emulsion)
  • cracked or broken? (glass plates)
  • mouldy or infested by insects?
  • sticky or strong smelling? (nitrate base negatives)

These are typical signs of damage and deterioration in photographic collections. The easiest, most economical and effective way to counteract this kind of damage to government photographic recordsis prevention. Establishing safe handling practices and adequate storage conditions will not only prolong the useful life of photographs but will ensure that records of historical and archival value will survive beyond their transfer to the National Archives of Canada.

Contact with newsprint may eventually damage your photographs.

Contact with newsprint may eventually damage your photographs. Brian Thurgood. National Archives of Canada.

Handling Guidelines

Handling photographs is necessary in any active collection and can also be a major cause of damage. In the course of daily operations, government photographic records can be received, processed, filed, retrieved, photocopied, circulated within the department or sent out-of-house, displayed or projected, returned and refiled. Since the risk of fingerprints, tears, dog-eared corners and other physical mutilation increases with the frequency of handling, original and valued materials should be protected from excessive handling. Where possible, use copied material for reference purposes. Processing officers and users should also be informed of the following safe handling practices.

1. Protect photographs from fingerprints.

Fingerprints on the surface of a photograph may appear barely visible today, but, over time, they can permanently discolour the image. For this reason, the front of a print should never be touched with bare hands. Ideally, lintless nylon or white cotton gloves should be worn when examining photographs to prevent skin oils and dirt from damaging original materials. Sleeving prints, slides and negatives in clear plastic enclosures will also allow users to examine photographic records without touching their surfaces. At the very minimum, users should be advised to hold prints and negatives with both hands, supporting the material from behind and avoiding the image area.

Prevent damage to photographs by wearing cotton gloves and avoiding the image area.

Prevent damage to photographs by wearing cotton gloves and avoiding the image area. Brian Thurgood. National Archives of Canada

2. Prohibit food and beverages in photograph handling and storage areas.

This rule should be enforced in areas where any government record is stored or handled. Spilled drinks and crumbs will not only damage the materials themselves but may also attract insects and rodents.

3. Minimize exposure to light.

The cumulative effects of light can lead to the fading and staining of some photographs, particularly colour materials and poorly processed black and white materials. Prints on early resin-coated (RC) papers have also been found to be more sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) light. It is therefore a good precaution to equip areas where government photographs are routinely handled with incandescent or UV-filtered fluorescent lighting and to close blinds or curtains to prevent prolonged exposure to sunlight. A light table will facilitate the viewing of negatives and transparencies, provided that prolonged exposures are avoided.

When photographs are to be displayed in offices and exhibitions, the recommended practice is to keep original prints and negatives in storage and display copied material only. All photographic materials that are displayed for extended periods should be protected from direct sunlight to avoid drying or fading of the image. If the exhibition of light-sensitive and original prints is necessary, keep light levels at 50 lux and mount prints according to conservation standards using safe adhesives, and acid-free mounts, mattes and frames.

The intense heat and light produced by slide and overhead projectors will accelerate the fading of colour slides and transparencies. For this reason, it is a good practice to limit projection time to under one minute and to use the low setting for lamp intensity when possible. Since the effects of projection are cumulative, make duplicate slides of frequently projected materials and keep the originals in dark storage.

4. Never write on the front of a print.

Labels prints on the reverse side, along the border, using a soft lead pencil.

Labels prints on the reverse side, along the border, using a soft lead pencil. Brian Thurgood. National Archives of Canada.

It is often necessary to identify photographic materials with a caption or annotation. The best practice is to note this descriptive information in a finding aid, in an index or on a piece of paper that will not be stored in direct contact with the photograph. The use of self-sticking, coloured notes on photographs is a common office practice that is not recommended since they can react adversely with the photographic material. Never write on the front of a photographic print! Printing instructions and crop marks can be drawn on a photocopy of the original and short inscriptions should be made on the filing enclosure or on the back of the image, along the border with a soft lead pencil (HB or softer). Since HB pencils do not mark all photographic materials, including many instant prints, older resin-coated prints, film negatives and plastic slide mounts, a safe, porous-tip marking pen such as the Light Impression Film/Print Marking Pen can be used. Adhesive labels, rubber stamps, inks and felt-tip pens should never be used on photographic materials because they contain active chemical compounds that may leach through the print and eventually damage the image.

5. Package photographic materials securely for mailing and transport.

When photographic materials must be sent in the mail, be sure they are sleeved in a protective enclosure and placed between two rigid pieces of cardboard that are a half inch larger than the photograph on all sides. Wrap well in bubble pack or use a padded mailing envelope, and ensure that the package is sealed. Multiple photographs are best packaged in a strong cardboard box in which extra space is filled with bubble pack or crumpled paper to prevent slipping. Always indicate on the outside of the package that it contains photographs to alert mail carriers. Cylindrical mailing tubes are not recommended for photographic materials.

6. Prevent damage to prints during photocopying.

While exposure to the short bursts of light from a photocopier will not adversely affect most photographic prints, they can nevertheless be damaged during the copying process. Handle photographs carefully with white cotton gloves and make sure the copier platen is clean. When photocopying prints, the best practice is to keep them in transparent enclosures to prevent contamination from dirt and fingerprints. If the demand for copies of a particular print is high, it is a good idea to make one photocopy to use as the "master" when further copies are required.

Storing Photographs

The long-term survival of photographs depends to a large extent upon storage conditions. When selecting an appropriate storage system for photographic records, information managers and photo custodians should consider the needs of their users, the growth rate of the collection, departmental resources and the principles of photograph preservation. The long-term storage needs of dormant photograph collections should be addressed in the disposition process.


A number of standards for the storage of photographic film, plates and prints have been issued by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). In the absence of Canadian standards on this subject, these ISO and ANSI standards can provide government information managers and photograph custodians with useful information on the storage of photographic records. The following storage recommendations are based upon the above standards which have been endorsed by the National Archives of Canada.


Under ideal conditions, each print, transparency or negative is sleeved in an individual filing enclosure for protection from environmental and physical damage. Because these enclosures remain in contact with the photograph for long periods of time, it is essential to select ones which will not contribute to the deterioration of the image. Be aware that some conventional filing materials used in many offices are in fact harmful to photographs over the long term because of their acidic content or chemical by-products. Do not use the following products or materials:

  • kraft envelopes
  • manila folders
  • glassine envelopes
  • cardboard
  • vinyl or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) sleeves and albums.

Many office supplies often found in contact with photographs will also damage prints over time. If it can be done without damaging the image, be sure to remove the following materials before storing photographs:

  • pressure sensitive tape (e.g., scotch, masking, nylon, plastic)
  • adhesive labels and self-sticking notes (gummed and pressure sensitive)
  • glues
  • paperclips, staples, rubber bands
  • paper, newspaper.

A number of acceptable paper and plastic storage products are available from the archival suppliers listed in Appendix D. American National Standard for Imaging Media -- Photographic Processed Films, Plates and Papers -- Filing Enclosures and Storage Containers, ANSI IT9.2-1988, can be a useful guide. The selection of a filing enclosure should also consider the format of the material, access needs, and the cost and availability of the product.

A variety of enclosures are available for the safe storage of photographic materials.

A variety of enclosures are available for the safe storage of photographic materials. Joseph Iraci. National Archives of Canada

Plastic enclosures: Plastic enclosures are a good choice for storing photographic materials because they allow users to see the image without touching it. The enclosure should be made of inert material: clear polyester sleeves such as Du Pont's Mylar D product are a good choice, as are those made of cellulose triacetate by the Eastman Kodak Company. Other plastics such as polyethylene and polypropylene are acceptable enclosure materials as long as they are uncoated. Be sure to check with the manufacturer if you are uncertain of the enclosure material, since not all plastics are harmless; vinyl and PVC enclosures will, over time, emit chemicals that react adversely with the photographic material.

Paper enclosures: Because paper enclosures are opaque, they can offer good protection from UV light for colour and other sensitive photographic materials. Paper is also easy to label. The main drawback of paper lies in the fact that photographs need to be removed from the enclosures for examination, increasing the potential for damage during handling and resleeving. Safe paper enclosures should contain no lignin (an acidic organic compound), have a high alpha-cellulose content and a pH level between 6.5 and 7.5. Such enclosures, sometimes called "acid-free," can usually only be purchased from archival suppliers (see Appendix D). If a seam is present in the construction of a paper envelope, photographs should be inserted with the emulsion side away from the seam. For very valuable photographic materials, the best practice is to enclose them in inert plastic and then sleeve them in paper envelopes.

Storage of Prints

Vertical files: A large volume of prints of similar size can be adequately stored in and efficiently retrieved from the vertical filing cabinets common to most offices. Since suspended files or folders will offer loose photographs little protection from dust and contamination, use individual filing enclosures within each file to compensate for this drawback. A movable pressure plate in a regular filing cabinet will prevent photographs from curling but be careful not to pack drawers tightly or photographs can be damaged during removal and refiling. All filing cabinets used for storage of photographic materials should be made of metal with a baked enamel finish. Wooden cabinets and drawers are not recommended, both because of flammability and the acidic compounds present in wood fibres.

Albums and binders: Although photographic albums have always been a popular way to store prints, most commercial brands are not suitable for long-term storage because of the acidic papers, adhesives and PVC coverings used in their construction. Albums with adhesive pages, often called "magnetic" albums, are particularly not recommended. If photograph albums are to be used for the short term, select ones with acid-free, uncoloured pages and affix photographs with mounts made of archival paper or polyester. As a further precaution, interleave album pages with archival tissue paper or polyester sheets. Another option is to sleeve prints in clear, plastic pages that are available in a variety of pocket sizes from archival and photographic suppliers. These pages can be filed in binders made of inert plastic, although care must be taken to ensure that pages do not slump together and curl the materials. A dust jacket or cover is also recommended for use with albums and binders.

Horizontal storage: Flat storage is an option particularly recommended for oversize photographs, including panoramic prints. Photographs larger than 8 inches by 10 inches should be kept in Mylar or acid-free folders and filed in metal cabinets with shallow drawers, such as those used for map storage. Never roll oversize prints.

Mounted or loose prints of all sizes will also fare well when stored in acid-free cardboard boxes. Acceptable storage boxes are manufactured in a variety of styles such as solander, clamshell and Hollinger, which are all available from archival suppliers. The advantage of a box storage system is that the containers keep out light, dust and gases, and provide rigid physical support for the photographs. Boxes can also be easily stacked on open shelving and transported if necessary.

Storing prints in paper files: In some cases, government photographs are kept in files containing paper and other documentation, such as a photograph included in a passport application or attached to a construction progress report. Although it is preferable to separate photographs from the acidic papers used in many offices, operational requirements sometimes demand that the two materials coexist in one file. A reasonable compromise would be to place the photograph in a protective enclosure (such as a clear, plastic sleeve) when stored in contact with paper documentation. Another option is to keep a master file of the original photographs and file copies with paper records.

Storage of Slides

Slide mounts: Transparencies which are used for slide projection are usually set in frames made of plastic, cardboard or metal and sometimes enclosed by thin sheets of glass on both sides. While glass mounts can protect slides from fingerprints and are a good choice for frequently used slides, they are not recommended for long-term storage because photographic emulsion can adhere to the glass under humid conditions.

Slide containers: Polyester sheets with pockets for slides and transparencies of various sizes are an efficient method of storage that allows quick visual reference. The clear pages can be numbered, filed in binders and easily removed for examination on a light table. Slides can also be stored upright in specially designed boxes, cabinets or file drawers made of acid-free cardboard, metal or inert plastic. When accompagnied by a dust cover, the plastic carousels used with Kodak slide projectors are acceptable for the medium-term storage of slides belonging to an established slide show. The little boxes in which slides return from processing offer only minimal protection during storage.

Storage of Negatives

Since negatives are particularly susceptible to scratches and dust, never store negatives without their protective enclosures. As with prints, individual negatives and strips of negative film should be encased in individual paper or plastic sleeves before storage in a vertical file or binder. Negative file boxes and cabinets constructed of inert plastic and metal are also available from some archival suppliers.

Roll film: Some kinds of still photographic film, such as aerial film, are maintained in rolls rather than cut into strips. Make sure that roll film is wound upon cores or reels composed of an inert plastic or a non-corrosive metal. The rolls should be wound evenly and tightly, with adequate tension to prevent cinching. Do not use rubber bands to keep the rolls intact; confine rolls with an acid-free paper band or a small strip of cloth or paper tape. To protect film from dust and physical damage, store rolls horizontally in cans made of inert plastic or non-corrosive metal. Acid-free paper boxes are also available for storing roll film.

Storage of Glass Plates

Although one of the earliest photographic processes, negatives on a glass base are still used today for certain precise scientific applications. Since glass plates are particularly vulnerable to physical damage, such as breaks, scratches and fingerprints, they should be handled with great care and ideally enclosed in individual sleeves, envelopes or folders made of inert plastic or lignin-free paper. Photographic plates are best stored upright, either in specially designed, grooved boxes or strong cardboard boxes lined with bubble pack. Be sure to clearly indicate on storage containers that they contain fragile materials. Practice for Storage of Processed Photographic Plates, ANSI PH1.45-1981, can be a useful source of information on this subject. Institutions with collodion "wet process" plates are urged to contact the National Archives for advice on the preservation of these particularly vulnerable materials.

Keep glass plates in individual sleeves and store upright in a rigid container.

Keep glass plates in individual sleeves and store upright in a rigid container. Brian Thurgood. National Archives of Canada

Storage Environment

The ideal environment for the storage of photographic materials is cool and dry. Conditions in government institutions and offices vary greatly and not many will have state-of-the-art storage vaults. Nevertheless, the specifications for the adequate, medium-term storage of photographic materials can be easily met by most institutions.

Storage Area

In selecting the storage site, avoid areas such as basements where humidity can be a problem. Where possible, keep photographs in a well insulated room, away from exterior walls, water pipes, sprinklers or washrooms. Outside windows should be present. Air filters and regular housekeeping and maintenance can reduce the amount of dust and airborne impurities in the storage area. Gaseous pollutants such as ozone, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxides, peroxides and hydrogen sulphide can react with the silver in black and white photographic materials and cause staining and fading. These gases are often present in industrial and urban settings so care must be take to ensure that photographic records are stored away from potential sources of exhaust or chemical fumes. Similarly, do not store photographs in a room that has been freshly painted with an oil-based paint; wait about six weeks for paint fumes to dissipate or use a latex or acrylic paint.

Temperature and Relative Humidity

High temperatures and relative humidity levels can have negative effects on photographs, particularly colour materials. A hot and damp environment can soften the gelatin emulsion on photographic materials, encourage the growth of mould spores and also accelerate deterioration caused by residual processing chemicals. Excessively dry conditions are equally harmful because they cause photographic materials to become brittle and curl. While different kinds of photographic materials will survive best under different conditions, a safe range for the medium-term storage of photographic materials has been established.

A hygrothermograph will register changes in relative humidity in your storage area.

A hygrothermograph will register changes in relative humidity in your storage area. Joseph Iraci. National Archives of Canada

If you can control temperature and humidity in your storage area, ANSI recommends that a constant temperature in the range of 15º C to 20º C should be maintained, with fluctuations of less than 4º C. An acceptable level of Relative Humidity (RH) is between 30% and 60%, but preferably below 40%. If your collection contains various types of photographic materials (negatives, prints, transparencies), the recommended RH level is 30%.

Check the humidity and temperature levels in your storage area periodically. A small air-conditioner, dehumidifier, as the case may be) can help to regulate conditions in an enclosed room. More important than the actual levels of temperature and RH, is the stability of conditions since fluctuations can be harmful. RH can be monitored daily with a hygrothermograph or sling psychrometer.

Special Considerations

Cellulose Nitrate Negative Film

In the first half of this century, photographic film was commonly produced on a cellulose nitrate (also called nitrocellulose) base, in both sheet and roll formats. Nitrate film's eventual fall into disuse was largely due to its flammability and unstable nature under storage. Special procedures apply to the storage and handling of nitrate-based material under the National Fire Code of Canada. Nitrate film materials, including motion picture film, should always be stored separately from safety-based photographic records.

If you know or suspect that any film negatives in your collection were produced before 1951, there is a good chance that cellulose nitrate materials exist in your files and could constitute a potential fire hazard. One way to establish the presence of this hazard is to look for the word "nitrate" printed along the border of the photographic negative. Since this indicator is not always present, National Archives staff can advise on other methods for detecting nitrate materials.

Cellulose Acetate Negative Film

Because of its shortcomings, nitrate film was eventually replaced by cellulose acetate film (safety film) as a photographic base material. Early safety film made from cellulose diacetate is also unstable, tending to shrink and give off a slightly acidic smell when decomposing. This is known as the vinegar syndrome and is most noticeable in roll film. For the protection of other photographic materials, store decomposing cellulose acetate film separately, in sealed containers.

If you have any questions about the identification of cellulose nitrate or cellulose acetate film, please contact the National Archives of Canada.

Disaster Preparedness

Since floods, fires, earthquakes and other misfortunes do happen, a written contingency plan should be in place to deal with the effects of unforeseen disasters. This plan should outline procedures to follow in the event of an emergency, list sources of supplies and equipment for recovery operations, name persons with recovery expertise and list material to be recovered (priority should be given to vulnerable materials). These procedures should be made available to all employees.


Because of their diverse chemical make-up, photographic records will often require different salvage procedures from textual records. Research by the National Archives of Canada has resulted in the following basic recommendations for the recovery of water-damaged photographic materials:

  1. If wet photographs can be treated immediately, air dry them.
  2. Keep immersion time to a minimum (less than 48 hours). Keep water temperature low by adding ice or cold water.
  3. Separate photographs from filing enclosures while wet. Photographs will stick if allowed to dry in contact with other materials.
  4. Salvage vulnerable materials first. (Generally speaking, salvage prints before film.)
  5. If materials cannot be treated immediately, freeze-drying photographs can retard damage, allowing you to thaw and air dry materials later. Never freeze, thaw and vacuum dry!

Institutions requiring further information on disaster preparedness and recovery can contact the National Archives of Canada and the Canadian Conservation Institute.

Essential Records

Photographic records may constitute part of the essential records of a government institution. The Essential Records Program is designed to ensure the survival of information that is vital to the conduct of government and to the re-establishment of basic rights of individuals and corporate bodies. Treasury Board requires government departments to take the following steps:

  1. identify their essential records
  2. store essential records in a secure site administered by the National Archives of Canada.

This program will protect records in the event of war or natural disasters, such as fires, floods and earthquakes. Government institutions should ensure photographic records are considered in their Essential Records Program. For further information on the policy requirements, consult the Guide to the Preservation of Essential Records (EPC 12/87) issued jointly by Emergency Preparedness Canada and the National Archives of Canada.



Every day, the Government of Canada creates, collects and uses substantial volumes of information in photographic form. While these records must be kept in order to meet the operational and legal requirements of government institutions, most photographs do not need to be retained permanently. If left to accumulate in government offices, large quantities of non-current records will occupy valuable space and storage equipment and can impede the retrieval of more essential information. The organized disposition of records promotes the economic administration of the Government of Canada by ensuring that records no longer required are disposed of while those of enduring value are preserved. This process is especially important for photographs, which are fragile and traditionally have not been perceived as government records by many employees.

The Information Life Cycle

Generation Active Life Dormant Storage Disposition
  • create
  • collect
  • receive
  • organize
  • retrieve
  • use
  • transmit
  • protect
  • plan disposition
  • convert to other media
  • store in-house, or at a Federal Records Centre
  • transfer to National Archives
  • destroy
  • alienate from the Govt. of Canada

Planning the life cycle of all records is an essential task in an institution's information management program. This is accomplished through the creation of records retention and disposition schedules  -  timetables which outline how long records will be kept (their retention period), recommended durations for active use and dormant storage, and what happens to records upon expiry of the retention period (disposition). Schedules for photograph collections will depend upon their operational and legal value to your institution. For example, photograph collections used for publicity or information purposes often must be kept up-to-date and so may have a relatively short retention period. On the other hand, photographs taken for scientific measurements over a period of time may require a relatively long retention period. Although schedules should cover records in any media related to a specific program, function or activity, retention periods for photographs might not be the same as those for the related files or reports. Paper-based information, for example, may also exist in automated form, while photographs are often sole sources of unique visual information.

Active Photographic Records

A photograph is considered active for as long as reference to it is sufficiently frequent and urgent that it must be held in close proximity to the officials who consult it. Active photographs are generally maintained in operational areas where they are organized into collections for retrieval and use. As with other government records, the disposition of photographs should be planned as early as possible since this may affect how they are managed throughout the rest of their active life. For example, active photographs which are identified as archival might be copied to minimize the handling of valuable originals. In general, the effective management of active records will facilitate the disposition process later on. Remember the following points:

  1. Ensure that all photographs are organized under a comprehensive classification system to facilitate reference and retrieval. Organizing records will also help to identify photographs of enduring value.
  2. Ensure that photographs are adequately protected from deterioration. If records are in danger of physical damage due to poor storage conditions, contact the National Archives for advice on preservation measures.
  3. Set retention periods for all photographic records as early as possible in the information life cycle and preferably at the same time as other records related to a particular program, function or activity of a government institution.

Dormant Photographic Records

A photograph becomes dormant when the frequency of reference no longer warrants its maintenance in expensive office space. For example, dormant photographs may be those which relate to a specific project or case that has been concluded. When photographs become dormant, they can be moved out of operational areas to a storage location in-house or at an off-site records centre. Keep in mind that photographs, especially colour materials, require special conditions for their survival in dormant storage. The National Archives of Canada provides off-site storage facilities for government records through a national network of Federal Records Centres (FRCs). For more information about storing photographic materials in these facilities, please contact the FRC in your region.


Disposition is the final stage in the information life cycle when a government institution can officially dispense with records no longer needed. The disposition of records in the Government of Canada is guided by the provisions of the National Archives of Canada Act (1987) which requires government institutions to (1) obtain the approval of the National Archivist before destroying or disposing of their records, and (2) transfer records of archival and historical importance to the National Archives.

A Planned Approach

In order to expedite the orderly disposition of records across government, the National Archives of Canada has developed a Planned Approach to disposition. For those government institutions subject to the National Archives of Canada Act (1987), a multi-year plan sets out the sequence in which departmental programs are approached, details how each program is addressed and develops a timetable for the production of records disposition submissions. Employees from the National Archives will assist government departments and agencies in this process.

The disposition process can result in three actions:

  1. the transfer of archival and historical records to the National Archives of Canada
  2. the alienation of records from the control of the Government of Canada
  3. the destruction of records.

Archival and Historical Photographic Records

Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau sign the Constitution. Ottawa, Ontario. April 17, 1982.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau sign the Constitution. Ottawa, Ontario. April 17, 1982. Robert Cooper. National Archives of Canada. PA-140705

A small percentage of government records are deemed to have an enduring archival or historical value, even after their usefulness to the institution has expired. Such records generally document important programs, actions and decisions of government institutions or contain unique information or evidence about the government and Canadians. Archival and historical records are permanently preserved by the National Archives in order to maintain the corporate memory of the Government of Canada for the benefit of public servants and future generations of Canadians.

Photographic records of enduring value are identified by means of an archival appraisal that considers such factors as the informational, evidential, fiscal and legal value of the collection.

Records without Enduring Value

Like the majority of records in government, most photographs have no value beyond their operational or legal usefulness to the institution. When records cease to be needed by an institution and are determined by an archival appraisal to have no enduring value, they can be disposed of after their retention period, with the authorization of the National Archivist. The National Archives has also pre-authorized the destruction of certain kinds of photographs without enduring value. Authorization is not required for the disposition of multiple copies and transitory photographic records, as outlined below.

Multiple Copies

Where a negative has been used to create many identical prints, it is not necessary to retain more than two identical copies in government collections. Additional copies of a print or slide can be destroyed once their usefulness in the institution has expired. The exception to this rule occurs when annotations have been added to the copy, thereby making it a new record.

Transitory Records

When photographic records are required only for a limited time to ensure the completion of a routine action or the preparation of a subsequent record, they can be disposed of under the Authority for the Destruction of Transitory Records. Examples of transitory photographic records may include process photography and outs:

  • Process photography encompasses negatives created solely as an intermediate stage in printing operations (such as negatives used to create lithographic or photo off-set plates).
  • Outs are photographs which do not become part of a collection and are discarded immediately after creation because of their poor quality, duplication or repetitiveness. Once photographs become part of a collection, even for a short time, they cannot be considered as "outs" regardless of their perceived quality or usefulness.

Destroying Photographic Records

Once approval is granted by the National Archivist, photographic records can be destroyed upon expiry of their retention period. Unlike most paper records, waste photographic materials unfortunately cannot be discarded in federal recycling programs. Use the waste disposal service. In some cases, however, it is possible to recover significant quantities of silver from black-and-white prints and negatives slated for disposition. Institutions with large volumes of waste photographs may wish to consider a silver recovery program.

Need Advice?

Individuals with questions about the retention and disposition of government photographs should first contact the information management staff in their own institution. To obtain additional help, please contact the Information Management Standards and Practices Division, Archives and Government Records Branch, National Archives of Canada.


This glossary contains terms used in this guideline that relate to photographs and their management. The French terms appear in parentheses after the English. In formulating definitions, the following references were used:

Focal Disctional of Photographic Technologies. D.A. Spencer (London: Focal Press, 1973).

A Glossary of Photographic Terms. No. AA-9 (Rochester, N.Y.: Eastman Kodak Company, 1980).

Glossary of Photographic Terms in General Use in the Graphic Arts. 94-GP-1 (Ottawa: Canadian Government Specifications Board, 1972).

active records (documents actifs) Records which are maintained in proximity to operational areas because of frequent use.

aerial photograph (photographie aérienne) Photograph of the topography of the ground, taken from an airborne vehicle.

alkaline (alcalin) Having a pH value greater than 7.

base (support photographique) The support upon which a photographic emulsion is coated e.g., film, paper, glass).

caption (légende) An explanatory statement which describes the content and context of an individual photograph.

caption sheet (feuille de légendes) A list of photographic captions.

cellulose acetate (acétate de cellulose) A plastic material which eventually replaced cellulose nitrate as a photographic film base and was commonly called safety film. In its diacetate form, cellulose acetate film decomposes unpredictably.

cellulose nitrate (nitrate de cellulose) A plastic commonly used as a photographic film base between 1889 and 1951. Nitrate is chemically unstable and can be extremely flammable.

cinch marks (marques de serrage) Abrasion scatches on the surface of roll film, usually the result of trying to tighten a loose wind by pulling one end of the film.

collection (collection) A group of photographs related by a common use, function or purpose.

copy (reproduction) A product of any stage in the second generation of a photographic record.

disposition (disposition) The final stage in the information life cycle during which records are either (a) transferred to the National Archives for preservation, (b) alienated from the Government of Canada or (c) destroyed.

dormant records (documents inactifs) Records which are frequently used and can be stored off-site.

emulsion (émulsion) The image-bearing layer of photographic material, usually consisting of light-sensitive silver halides suspended in gelatin.

enduring value (valeur permanente) The archival or historical merit of a record, as determined by the National Archives, that warrants its permanent retention.

essential records (documents essentiels) Records vital to the conduct of government in the event of an emergency or natural disaster.

fibre-based print (épreuve sur papier fibre) A photographic print on a paper support that does not contain plasticizers.

file number (numéro de dossier) A number assigned to an individual photograph to indicate its placement in the classification system.

glassine (papier cristal) A storage material made of translucent tissue paper treated with glycerine. Glassine is generally acidic and considered unsafe for the storage of photographs.

hygrothermograph (hygrothermographe) Instrument used to measure and plot an on-going record of changes in temperature and relative humidity.

instant print (photo à développement instantané [Polaroïd]) A positive paper print that has developed within seconds after exposure, usually by diffusion-transfer process (e.g., Polaroïd film).

lignin (lignine) An organic compound found in wood and wood products.

lux (lux) A metric unit for measuring illumination.

matte (passe-partout) A border placed between a displayed photographic print and the frame.

model release (autorisation de publier) A written agreement between a photographer and the subject of the photograph, assigning rights of reproduction or publication.

Mylar D (Mylar D) Brand name of a plastic made by Du Pont that, for the purpose of storing photographic materials, is considered inert.

negative (négatif) A processed photographic image in which the light and dark tones are the reverse of the original subject.

original (original) A product of any stage in the first generation of the photographic record.

photography (photographie) The method of obtaining the representation of objects upon sensitive substances by the action of visible or invisible light. A photograph is any product of this process.

plasticizer (plastifiant) An organic compound which is added to polymers in order to increase flexibility and toughness.

polyvinyl chloride (PVC) (chlorure de polyvinyle) A common plastic material which is harmful to photographs because of the plasticizers it emits as it ages.

positive (positif) A processed photographic image in which the light and dark tones correspond to those of the original subject.

print (épreuve) A positive photographic image, usually on a paper base.

record (document) Information in any physical form, including photographs, maps, drawings, film, microform, magnetic tape, paper or electronic files, and any other documentary material.

records disposition submission (demande de disposition des documents) A proposal from a government institution (completed in collaboration with National Archives officials) requesting approval from the National Archivist for the disposition of records.

records retention and disposition schedule (calendrier de conservation et de disposition des documents) A timetable outlining the life cycle of a record.

relative humidity (RH) (humidité relative HR) The ratio of the amount of water vapour in the air to the maximum possible at that temperature.

resin-coated (RC) ([papier] RC ou [papier] plastifié) A contemporary photographic paper containing a polyethylene layer to reduce fixing and washing times.

retention period (délai de conservation) The period of time which must elapse before a record may be disposed of. The length of the retention period reflects the value of the record.

roll film (film en rouleau) Photographic film that is wound on a spool.

roll negative strips (négatifs en bande) Processed negative film that is cut into lengths.

safety-based film (film de sécurité) See cellulose acetate.

safety film (film de sécurité) See cellulose acetate.

silver mirroring (miroir d'argent) The formation of a metallic blue sheen on the surface of negatives, plastes and prints.

slide (diapositive) A transparency encased in plastic or paper mounts for projection.

sling psychrometer (psychromètre portatif) An instrument used to measure relative humidity.

stills (photographies de plateau) Publicity photographs taken from a motion picture.

subject file (dossier-matière) A collection of records physically arranged under assigned subject headings.

subject index (index des matières) A list of files arranged under principal subject headings.

transparency (transparent) A positive photographic image on a transparent support intended for viewing by projection or transmitted light.

ultraviolet light (UV) (lumière ultraviolette) Invisible light at the violet end of the light spectrum.

UV filter (filtre UV) A filter on electric light fixtures to absorb ultraviolet radiation.


ANSI. American National Standards for Imaging Media -- Photographic Processed Films, Plates, and Papers -- Filing Enclosures and Storage Containers. ANSI IT9.2-1988. New York: American National Standards Institute, 1988.

ANSI. American National Standard for Photography (Film and Slides) -- Black and White -- Photographic Paper Prints -- Practice for Storage. ANSI PH1.48-1982. New York: American National Standards Institute, 1982.

ANSI. American National Standard for Photography (Film) -- Processed Safety Film -- Storage. ANSI PH1.43-1985. New York: American National Standards Institute, 1986.

ANSI. Practice for Storage of Processed Photographic Plates. ANSI PH1.45-1981. New York: American National Standards Institute, 1981.

Bowditch, George. Cataloguing Photographs: A Procedure for Small Collections. Technical Leaflet 57. Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1971.

Canadian Conservation Institute. CCI/ICC Notes. Issues 16/1 - 16/6. Ottawa: National Museums of Canada, 1986.

Canadian Council of Archives. Basic Conservation of Archival Materials: A Guide. Ottawa: Canadian Council of Archives, 1990.

Eastman Kodak Company. Conservation of Photographs. Kodak Publication F-40. Rochester, N.Y.: Eastman Kodak Company, 1985.

Eastman Kodak Company. Recovering Silver from Photographic Materials. Kodak Publication J-10. Rochester, N.Y.: Eastman Kodak Company, 1985.

Gilmore, Valita and William H. Leary. Managing Audiovisual Records. Instructional Guide Series. Washington: National Archives and Records Administration, 1990.

Hendriks, Klaus B. Fundamentals of Photograph Conservation: A Study Guide. Toronto: Lugus Publications, 1991.

Hendriks, Klaus B. "The Stability and Preservation of Recorded Images" in Imaging Processes and Materials, Neblette's Eighth Edition. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1989. pp. 637-684.

Hendriks, Klaus B. and Anne Whitehurst. Conservation of Photographic Materials: A Basic Reading List. Ottawa: National Archives of Canada, 1988.

Hendriks, Klaus B. and Brian Lesser. "Disaster Preparedness and Recovery: Photographic Materials" in American Archivist, Vol. 46, No. 1/Winter 1983, pp. 52-68.

ISO. International Standard for Photography -- Processed Photographic Paper Prints -- Storage Pactices. ISO 6051-1986 (E). Switzerland: International Organization for Standardization, 1986.

ISO. International Standard for Photography -- Processed Photographic Plates -- Storage Practices. ISO 3897-1986 (E). Switzerland: International Organization for Standardization, 1986.

ISO. International Standard for Photography -- Processed Safety Photographic Film -- Storage Practices. ISO 5466-1986 (E). Switzerland: International Organization for Standardization, 1986.

Keefe, Laurence E. and Dennis Inch. The Life of a Photograph. Boston: Focal Press, 1984.

Pederson, Ann, ed. Keeping Archives. Sydney: Australian Society of Archivists Inc., 1987.

Polaroid Corporation. Storing, Handling and Preserving Polaroid Photographs: A Guide. Boston: Focal Press, 1983.

Ritzenthaler, Mary Lynn, Gerald J. Munoff and Margery S. Long. Archives and Manuscripts: Administration of Photographic Collections. SAA Basic Manual Series. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 1984.

Vanderbilt, Paul. Filing Your Photographs: Some Basic Procedures. Technical Leaflet 36. Nashville: American Association of State and Local History, 1966.

Weinstein, Robert A. and Larry Booth. Collection, Use, and Care of Historical Photographs. Nashville: American Association of State and Local History, 1977.


National Archives of Canada

The National Archives of Canada offers a variety of services, courses, advice and information to government institutions on the management of their records. Please direct your inquiries to:

Government Information Management Office
Library and Archives Canada
Telephone: 819-934-7519
Fax: 819-934-7534

The PHOCUS database provides automated access to a large collection of documentation about the conservation of archival materials, particularly photographs. Contact:

National Archives of Canada
Lanctôt Library
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0N3

Federal Records Centres provide storage facilities for government records in most media. Contact your regional FRC for further information on their services.

Vancouver 604-666-8243

Edmonton 403-495-3120

Winnipeg 204-983-8845

Toronto 416-675-2546

Ottawa 613-954-4175

Montreal 514-283-4044

Halifax 902-426-5940

Quebec City 418-878-2825

Canadian Conservation Institute

The CCI provides advice and publications on the conservation of photographs and other archival media:

Canadian Conservation Institute
1030 Innes Road
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0C8

Standards Council of Canada

ANSI and ISO standards for the storage of photographic materials are available for consultation or purchase at:

Standards Council of Canada
45 O'Connor Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 6N7


Products for the preservation, storage, filing and display of photographic materials can be purchased from a number of Canadian and American sources. The following list of vendors is not an endorsement of any product or merchant by the National Archives of Canada or the Government of Canada. Suppliers are also listed in the Museum and Archival Suppliers Handbook, 3rd ed. Toronto: Ontario Museum Association and Toronto Area Archivists Group, 1985.

Archival Conservation Resources Ltd
P.O. Box 2506, Station D
Ottawa ON K1P 5W6

Carr McLean
461 Horner Avenue
Toronto ON M8W 4X2

Conservation Resources International
800-H Forbes Place
Springfield, Virginia 22151

Coroplast Inc.
700, rue Vadnais
Grandy QC J2J 1A7

Kodak Canada, Inc.
3500 Eglinton Avenue
Toronto ON M6M 1V3

Light Impressions Corporation
439 Monroe Avenue
P.O. Box 940
Rochester NY 14603-0940

M.L. Snyder Inc.
53 Woodbridge Avenue
Woodbridge ON L4L 2S6

Opus Binding Co.
356 Preston Street
Ottawa ON K1S 1M7

Photo Plastic Products, Inc.
P.O. Box 17638
Orlando, Florida 32860

Smith Packaging Ltd.
10 Capella Crescent
Nepean ON K2E 7V6

Division of Technical Library Service
213 West 35th Street, 9th Floor
New York NY 10001-1996

Woolfitt's Art Enterprises Inc.
390 Dupont Street
Toronto ON M5R 1V9