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Preservation & Restoration Activities at Krasnogorsk

The value of any archive lies not only in its historic significance, but in the preservation status of its materials. Many archives around the world have incredible media that cannot be utilized because of deteriorationand poor preservation procedures. RAO and the Archive Media Project are very fortunate that the archival treasures of Krasnogorsk are in the able hands of keepers who value their opportunity to safeguard the visual history of Russia and the former Soviet Union. Under the direction of Lyudmilla Zapryagayeva, 160 dedicated archival specialists work with the film and photos of the Russian State Documentary Film and Photo Archive. Preservation and restorationactivities insure that these valuable documents will remain available for research and duplication as archival film & footage.

Red Square before
After Restoration

Underground vaults provide storage space for the most delicate nitrate films from the 1920s and 1930s, as well as the oldest photo albums from the 1800s and early 1900s. This system of vaults extends under the archive and provides for humidity and temperature control. Special "safes" have been prepared for the most deteriorated film, and all of these endangered films have had acetate copies made. The nitrate film base is very unstable, and can cause severe fires, which have decimated collections in various archives around the world. Copying nitrate films to acetate is considered a necessary preservation precaution. Of the 50,790 total nitrate rolls at Krasnogorsk, all but 8,000 have been copied to acetate. (In some cases because they are obsolete types and sizes of film for which there is no equipment.)

High temperature and humidity are the greatest dangers to film preservation, with the best storage conditions being the lowest temperature possible (even freezing, in some cases), and also very low humidity, for both nitrate andacetate film. Krasnogorsk's acetate film, photos and negatives are stored in a seven story building built in 1983, which is air conditioned for cooling and humidity control. Archive employees developed and built special shelving for this building to allow for air circulation and easy access to the films. In most cases there are three copies of each film in storage: the original, a duplicate positive and a duplicate negative.

soldiers before

After Restoration

Ken Weissman, head of the Motion Picture Conservation Center at the Library of Congress, discusses the vinegar syndrome process: "Triacetate safety film is a polymer manufactured from a chemical reaction involving cellulose and acetic acid. When polymers break down, the reaction is in effect the reverse of the manufacturing process. This is why acetic acid is produced when safety film decomposes (nitric acid is produced when nitrate film decomposes). Since acetic acid has a very low odor threshold, even the slightest amounts present in the film are detectable by the human nose. Once the presence of acetic acid is detected, there is generally a very short period of time before the decomposition reaches the point where the film becomes unprintable. This can happen even before the emulsion begins to be significantly affected.The film base becomes unstable, almost elastic, making it almost impossible to maintain proper registration or gate contact while printing."

Abamedia staff provided sample testing equipment to determine the extent of the vinegar syndrome problem at Krasnogorsk, and it appears that there is not an immediate danger, most likely due to the favorable temperatureand humidity conditions, as well as the ongoing program of rewinding and reviewing films to detect deterioration. Preservation specialists view all films at least once every five years and make notes on the technical conditions.In preservation literature, re-winding films (as for viewing) is advisedas a major help in avoiding vinegar syndrome, a sign that the base of the film is deteriorating. However, most archives do not have the staff available to pursue such a time-consuming process.

At Krasnogorsk, 20 people are assigned to this review process on a continuous basis - hand re-winding films on flat-bed editing tables, examining each and every frame. They replace tape splices, suggest restoration needs, andmake notes on the content and physical type of copies available to make sure it matches the catalog information. If problems are present, films are referred to a higher level of specialists who deal with individual deterioration ordamage conditions, and make recommendations for cleaning or repair. In the past, films would be duplicated on-site when severe problems existed, but the film lab is now closed due to lack of funding and supplies.

Peasant before
After Digital Restoration

Staff at Krasnogorsk are very creative at working within their financial constraints. Two old-style machines from the 1960's are used for cleaning film and removing scratches, with water, glycerin, and cleaning solutions.These machines have been maintained on-site, and have had parts re-manufactured by hand by archive employees. Additionally, there is a new machine for treating the film base, and ultrasound machines for cleaning. A special machine for re-moisturizing and cleaning the film was completely built at the archive from parts of old machines, with hand-made wood rollers and leather straps. This machine is treated as a member of "the archive family" and is affectionately called "Annashka" (Annie), because archive employees feel so personally responsible for it's existence and continued service to film preservation. The photo review and restoration process is similarly impressive, with restoration being conducted by hand and on computer equipment and software provided by AMP. AMP computer specialists are providing on-going trainingand assistance to Archive personnel.


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