A few years back, I did a call-in radio show on WORT-FM. At the very last moment when I was on the air, I got a question that I ended up taking off the air. The question was from someone who had inherited a large box of negatives. She had a really smart question and I couldn’t answer off the top of my head:
If I force a curved negative flat for scanning,
will I damage it?
I already know it’s unsafe to try to unroll a curled paper print. That’s a Very Bad Idea. because the emulsion layer can crack if you do that. You need to relax the paper backing first, but that’s a different quesiton.
To be honest, I just wasn’t sure if that was also true for film, so I asked my buddy David Benjamin for some guidance. He’s a photo archivist of the highest caliber and also one of my favorite people. It’s good to have friends who are smarter than me, don’t you think?
Here’s what David told me:
It is safe to scan.
It’s also OK to store curled negatives flat in envelopes for a short time with a weight on top. This sometimes relaxes film back to a flatter state.
David has personally flattened out and even unrolled film and seen no visible damage.
Getting it wet again by re-washing is waaay too dangerous. “Don’t even think about it!” he said.
Looking for help before you tackle your big family photo project? My Joy of Organizing Photos CD is crammed with just about everything I can teach you about how to organize, preserve, scan and share your unique family photos. Click here to learn more. Here’s a link to my online store where I describe the scanners I use myself.