Sometimes? You have to carry your anger around with you for a looong time before you have a chance to write it down. I’ve literally been holding onto an empty egg carton because the icky marketing tactics reminded me so much of the way archival photo boxes are sold. It’s an important lesson for anyone who wants their photographs to last as long as possible.
Since when do “local” eggs come from a different state?
Last summer* my family and I enjoyed a fantastic vacation on a clear, cold Northern Wisconsin lake. Piney woods. Sandy beach. Quirky museums. We all had a great time. Our hotel room had a small kitchenette, so at one point we went shopping at the local grocery store for some breakfast food.
*Surprisingly, this is not the only family vacation story where I get angry about photo storage. The other one is about me finding one of those horrible sticky magnetic albums on sale in a shop. It was sold as “Photo Safe.” Said so right on the packaging. I had to be dragged out of the nice little stationery shop. Sigh.
Except we were on vacation in an unfamiliar city and the only local grocery store we managed to find was on the highway. It was a Super Wal-Mart. Not my first choice, but perfectly fine in a pinch. We just needed to pick up a few things and get back to the piney woods. Piney woods, yay!
Fast forward to me looking bewildered in the ginormous (meaning h-u-h-uh-UGE) egg section. How to narrow my choices without having to think too much? I’m not a big fan of plastic, as my readers already know, plus I’m lucky enough to live in a city where they pick up cardboard egg cartons for free as part of our municipal recycling program. Eeasy peasy, then. Cardboard was the answer. That one decision narrowed my choices dramatically. All I had to do was pick the cheapest cardboard container. Woo hoo!
Can you spot what’s not quite right with the winner?
The first thing to set off my alarm was the word quality. Quality? What kind of quality, exactly? They don’t bother to say. And what’s with Farmer’s Market Fresh? I bought those eggs in a Super Wal-Mart fer cryin’ out loud. Click here to see what one of these stores looks like. To steal a line from Douglas Adams, that’s almost – but not quite – entirely unlike a farmer’s market. Or at least every farmer’s market *I’ve* ever been to.
I see what you’re doing here, Anonymous Marketing Dude.
You are describing your eggs with words that evoke or make me think about qualities I like: A small family run farm with happy chickens. Eggs that are (literally) farm fresh — meaning they traveled only a short distance to get from farm to my breakfast skillet. In other words, not the kind of farm with chickens stacked floor to ceiling in huge warehouse style barns. Not the kind where hens live their entire lives in crowded cages. Do these eggs actually have any of those qualities? Hard to say. They were, in fact, brown. So that part was true. I haven’t managed to get a look at the barns where the eggs were laid to see whether it’s a factory farm or not. If you have, please let me know.
In any case, it says right there on the carton that these eggs sure as heck didn’t come from Wisconsin:
Once I figured out that these eggs came from out of state, I no longer believed any of Marketing Dude’s claims. Not the explicit ones and definitely not the implicit ones. Now that I think about it? I’m starting to get angry about Marketing Dude for lying to me. Angry enough that I might actually hold onto the empty carton for over a year just to complain about it publicly.
What does any of this craziness have to do with preserving photographs?
I’m sure you’ve seen these claims on photo albums. I am here to tell you that those words are basically meaningless. The terms are unregulated, which means companies are free use them to describe ANY product they want to sell.
(Kinda like calling out of state eggs local or farmer’s market fresh, no?)
Calling an album “photo safe” tells you only one thing: The manufacturer has decided that calling it that will sell more albums. No doubt to the people who who love their photos the most and want them to last as long as possible. Marketing Dude wants to evoke or create the feeling of permanence, of safe gentle storage. He is selling you the good feeling of satisfaction you will get by taking the best care possible of your photo treasures. You know… archiving. There’s a funny story about that, actually. Because buying supplies marked “archival” doesn’t get you the highest quality materials. Not by a long shot.
In fact, the term “archival” has been applied so loosely and so inappropriately that it is no longer used in International Standards for photographic materials.
Thank goodness for the Photographic Activity Test (PAT).
The PAT It’s an International Standard (ISO 14523) developed by the Image Permanence Institute. It’s a neat-o coolio accelerated aging test that incubatates materials in temperature- and humidity-controlled chambers to see if there are any harmful interactions between photographs and storage materials. If it passes the test, it’s the best reassurance you can have that the enclosures will not cause damage to the photographs. It’s the closest thing we have to “archival.”
Important: The PAT is an independent third party test.
It is my personal opinion that self-testing by companies is not as reliable.
Q. How can I find PAT passed boxes and envelopes?
A. Archival supply companies
The bad news in all this, I guess, is that it’s difficult to find PAT passed boxes in stores. You need to purchase them from archival suppliers like Gaylord.com or HollingerMetalEdge.com. The good news is that all these companies have online ordering and will also be happy to send you a paper catalog in the mail. Yay!
If you happen to be reading this during Archives Month or Family History Month — that’s October — you can purchase one of my Family Archivist Survival Kits. Available for only one month per year so my family doesn’t kick me out for taking over the house with carton after carton of empty boxes. Details here: http://practicalarchivist.com/FamilyArchivistSurvivalKit.html