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Film Preservation Photo Gallery

What We Aim to Prevent

The statistics are well-known and daunting: Fewer than 20% of American silent films still survive in complete form; and for American films produced before 1950, half no longer exist. Even post-1950 films face danger from threats such as color-fading, vinegar syndrome, shrinkage, and soundtrack deterioration.

The photos on this page graphically illustrate the devastating results of shrinkage and nitrate decomposition, where the actual film stock and image has been ravaged from within by its own chemical action. The first three show what ruinous damage can afflict the picture image even if a reel survives, while the final ten reveal the stunning destruction the film reels suffer—it is doubtful any passable film images can be duplicated from these reels.

Far too many of America’s films have already been lost, yet so much of this vital heritage remains and can still be saved. To find out how you can assist the ongoing preservation efforts of America’s film archives, please visit the web site of our private sector charitable affiliate, the National Film Preservation Foundation.

deteriorating film
Young Men’s Blaine Club of Cincinnati
(Thomas Edison, 1897)
Motion picture film consists of a binder joining two key layers: the emulsion, which contains the image; and a transparent support base. In these frames, nitrate deterioration has separated the emulsion from the base.
deteriorating film
Clark’s Thread Mill
(Thomas Edison, 1896)
Here, decomposing nitrate gave off acidic gases which destroyed the emulsion.
deteriorating film
A Regiment of Two
(Vitagraph, 1913)
A projector’s light source burnt a hole into this frame of nitrate film

Late-stage nitrate deterioration—the film stock crumbles into powder.
Late-stage nitrate deterioration--the film stock crumbles into powder Late-stage nitrate deterioration--the film stock crumbles into powder
Late-stage nitrate deterioration--the film stock crumbles into powder Late-stage nitrate deterioration--the film stock crumbles into powder
Late-stage nitrate deterioration--the film stock crumbles into powder Late-stage nitrate deterioration--the film stock crumbles into powder
Late-stage nitrate deterioration--the film stock crumbles into powder deteriorating film
deteriorating film deteriorating film

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Library of Congress >> A/V Conservation >> National Film Preservation Board
( July 19, 2011 )
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