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Subject: Recovering film from Mount Everest

Recovering film from Mount Everest

From: Morten Ryhl-Svendsen <morten.ryhl>
Date: Tuesday, November 10, 1998
Gary L. Moore <gcmoore [at] sprynet__com>

>... Hopefully
>we will be able to locate and recover a camera which might contain
>film showing their summit success or failure.  Should we recover the
>camera, and it is structurally intact, is it possible the film might
>still be developed? It would have remained frozen through the years.
>How should the film be handled?

I must say that I don't have any experience with developing old
films myself. However, at the History of Photography list there were
just recently a similar question, and most of the answers given
there sounds quite reliable. The film in question then was a
60-year-old Pan X Safety Film. To summarize, the advices given by
various list members then were:

    *   To a start only develop a short length of the film, to see
        if your development time should be altered. (And if you are
        dealing with sheet films of course start with one sheet
        only).

    *   If the first piece of developed film is very fogged, you
        might want to use a restrainer, as eg. Kodak as Anti-Fog
        tablets #1.

    *   One suggests using straight Dektol at 68 to 70 degrees for 5
        minutes with the agitation cycle that you normally use. Then
        stop bath, fix, and wash/dry as normal.

    *   Another one recommends 50% longer time than "normal
        development".

    *   To beware that a too long immersion into water can make the
        emulsion lifting of the base.

I must add myself, that if there is something on the films, it will
probably be developed to a more or less useful result no matter what
developer you use. If the contrast is weak, it will be possible to
correct this when making the prints. What would worry me much more,
is the danger of the emulsion leaving the film base during
processing, leaving you with just about nothing. This is (among
other things) dependent of the pH of the developer. Developer is
more or less alkaline, and a high pH will make the gelatine swell
more (and higher the risk that the emulsion floats away). As a
Dektol solution easily can have a pH around 11, another developer
called Amidol is almost pH-neutral, which will be much more gentle
on the gelatine emulsion. Amidol is used today in photographic
conservation when re-developing old negatives after bleaching, a
situation probably quite similar to developing a 70+ years old film.
I don't think you can buy ready-to-use Amidol today, but you can
find the recipe in most older photographic recipe books. Finally I
will draw your attention to an article by Jesper Stub Johnsen of the
Danish National Museum: "Image Quality of Chemically Restored Black
and White Negatives", in Journal of Imaging Science and Technology,
36 (1992) pp. 46-55. The use of Amidol (among other things) in
conservation is described here, and even the subject here is
*re*-development of older negatives you might find some information
still useful regarding your problem.

Morten Ryhl-Svendsen
Conservator - Photographic Materials
The School of Conservation, Copenhagen

                                  ***
                  Conservation DistList Instance 12:43
                Distributed: Thursday, November 12, 1998
                       Message Id: cdl-12-43-002
                                  ***
Received on Tuesday, 10 November, 1998

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