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Oct 24, 2005

Common Photograph Problems and Concerns

There are several common concerns that arise when finding, sorting and organizing older family photos. Here are the top five concerns for most family genealogists and scrapbook enthusiasts:

  • Broken, torn, or cracked photographs: If the primary support of a photograph sustains serious damage, place it carefully in a polyester sleeve with an archiva board support. If a photograph has a flaking layer or surface treatments, such as the pastel coloring, place it in a shallow box. Do not use pressure-sensitive adhesive tapes to repair torn photographs. Consult a Photographic Materials Conservator to perform repairs. You might also be able to restore the photo with digital technology.
  • Soiled photographs or negatives: Brush soiled photographs carefully with a clean, soft brush. Work from the center of the photograph out, toward the edges. Do not attempt to clean photographs with water or solvent based cleaners, such as window cleaner or film cleaner. Improper cleaning of photographic materials can cause serious and irreversible damage, such as permanent staining, abrasion, alteration, or loss of binder and image. Consult a professional photographer or digital enhancing professional for help.
  • Photographs or negatives adhered to enclosures: High-humidity environments or direct exposure to liquids can cause photographs to adhere to frame glass or enclosure materials. This is a very difficult problem to resolve, and great care must be taken to reduce the possibility of further damage. If a photograph becomes attached to adjacent materials, consult a professional Photographic Materials Conservator before attempting to remove the photo. It may be possible to make a copy of the photo through digital scanning or photography.
  • Deteriorated negatives: Chemical instability is a major factor in the deterioration of early film-based materials. If film-based negatives are brittle, discolored, sticky, appear wavy or are full of air bubbles, separate the negatives from the rest of the collection and consult a Photographic Materials Conservator or professional photographer. A conservator will be able to help identify these materials and make recommendations for their safe storage and/or duplication.
  • Broken glass negatives or ambrotypes: Place broken glass carefully in archival paper enclosures. Use a separate, clearly marked enclosure for each piece to reduce the possibility of scratching or further damage. Consult a professional Photographic Materials Conservator for assistance.


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