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Photo Flat File

A flat file is a cabinet with wide, shallow drawers suitable for storing maps, large papers, and other items that don't fit in conventional filing cabinets. Martha adapted an antique flat file she purchased at an antiques store for organizing boxes of photographs. The file was stripped of old layers of paint and varnish, then primed and painted inside and out; the top was covered in galvanized steel. The bottom four drawers were combined to form two deeper drawers; these will accommodate larger boxes of photos, though the appearance of four drawers was maintained to preserve the original design of the piece. All drawers were lined with archival-quality cardboard. The drawer handles were removed, cleaned of rust with Naval Jelly, then reattached.

Each drawer handle on the flat file contains a window for a label; Martha marked the labels with titles like "Travels" and "Alexis as a Child." Martha stores her photographs inside special photo folders, which she places in archival-quality boxes. Archival-quality storage materials are acid- and lignin-free. Acid will react with and deteriorate your photos; lignin, a substance found in plant fibers, breaks down over time and can also be harmful. Both substances are present in most papers.

To extend the lives of your own photographs, first keep in mind that a picture is only as stable as the paper it's printed on. Ask your photo lab to use its longest-lasting color-photography paper, especially for favorite prints. Make sure you store precious photographs out of sunlight in a cool, low-humidity area. Attics and basements, prone to humidity and extremes in temperature, are seldom good places to store photos. Store negatives carefully as well, as you can use them to produce new prints.

Finally, even though you may want to display your favorite image in a picture frame, keep in mind that color photographs will fade when exposed to sunlight. Be sure you keep a backup print in a protected environment.

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