About 1,000 old photo negatives from the Touchstones Nelson archives have been digitized and will be made available online this Saturday.
The negatives are on cellulose acetate film and have to be stored in individual paper envelopes in a freezer to slow deterioration. They are rarely brought out for the public to see.
“The majority of this material has never been online, with the exception of maybe a couple Sternwheelers photos that were scanned for our virtual exhibits,” Touchstones archivist and collections manager Laura Fortier explains.
The negatives were donated to the archives by photographers like JH Allen, JD Spurway, Ross Fleming and JSD Smith, as well as the Nelson Daily News. They show Kootenay landscapes, buildings and people between the 1930s and 1980s, when modern polyester film replaced the earlier formats.
“People donate their material to us because they want it properly preserved for future generations to see, and digitizing is one way we do that,” Fortier says.
The digital images are catalogued and stored on archival gold CDs (made with 24-karat gold to be scratch resistant), which have a 300 year lifespan and are checked annually to ensure they’re still compatible with current technology.
With all the effort — and expense — Touchstones shoulders to care for these images, Fortier says there’s always some concern about how they will be used after they’re put online.
“We hold the copyright on these images and — while we want to share them with the public — we hope people won’t use them for profit,” she says.
Rather, she hopes the public will browse the photos on the Touchstones website and perhaps help fill in the gaps in the archival records.
“Some of the pictures we received didn’t come with a lot of information, so if somebody sees them and knows more about them than we do, we’d love to hear from them,” Fortier says.
The photos will be released online Saturday at touchstonesnelson.ca/exhibitions/photos. Touchstones is also hosting a free launch event in its lobby on May 4 at 1 p.m. where people can see a slideshow of the images projected on a screen and learn more about the collection. Refreshments will be served.
The photo digitization project was funded by Columbia Basin Trust and Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance.