In the 1930’s being a film projectionist in a cinema was a hazardous job. In the USA it was estimated that every 18 days a projectionist died – and this was partly attributed to working with cellulose nitrate film. Cellulose nitrate transparent plastic film was used by photographers and movie filmmakers from its release in the 1880s to the 1950s.
The storage of this material is a challenge for cultural institutions because of its instability and hazardous nature, as nitrate is highly flammable and deteriorates over time. Historically, cellulose acetate gradually began to replace cellulose nitrate as it is not flammable. Despite its non-flammable properties, leading to cellulose acetate being called ‘safety’ film, over time it became clear that it also deteriorates in hazardous ways.
This floor talk will discuss how a team of conservators, chemists and statisticians worked together to develop a protocol that is now used internationally by cultural heritage institutions to identify cellulose nitrate and cellulose acetate film bases.
Dr Elizabeth Carter is the Manager of the Sydney Analytical Vibrational Spectroscopy Node, a core research facility of the University of Sydney. Elizabeth has a passion to research objects and materials of cultural heritage significance to reveal their hidden mysteries and secrets of the artisans who made them.
Header image: Lucilla Ronai using FTIR to get a spectra of a photograph with an unidentified plastic base.
Free, in person talk.