Help Restoring Rotting Photos

Discussion in 'Black and White' started by david_l., Apr 22, 2005.

  1. Hi -
    Assuming I can do something about it since I own a camera, A friend handed me a stack of
    family photos that have become damaged by exposure to the elements. They sat in a
    garage and had been rained on. many of the photos in frames have fungus on the glass so
    I can assume that the fungus and who knows what else, is embedded in the photo paper.
    Most of the prints are RC both B&W and color but there are some older bromide and one
    tintype. I planned on running them through a print washer and soaking them in a bath
    containing a print hardener, but I am going to scan each photo before I do any work just in
    case some of them don't make it. Any suggestions on how to wash the organisms out of
    the prints? Anything else that I shold be doing to preserve these photos?
  2. I'd look into the care and rpeservation of photographs book. But as far as I know copying them is the only way to restore them.
    I wouldn;t just run them in a washer without consulting the book!

    When copying them use a yellow filter to eliminate most stains.
  3. You can also call a local museum preservationist for onpoint info.
  4. First off, DO NOT put the tintype in water. Tintypes need to be professionally treated. I would scan it, or photograph it very carefully using a copy stand in order to have a copy and then look into professional options. For the others, washing old prints can result in anything from disintegration to very minor improvements. No mater the result, they will curl badly so if you wet them, be sure to dry them carefuly. I would strongly suggest that whatever you choose to do, conduct careful research first, or most of the images will be destroyed. There are a few good books out there on care and cleaning methods for old photographs, like this one

    Ounce of Preservation

    Once you have an idea of the basics, you may want to ask around museums as many have archivists on staff who may be willing to help you along, although they are not likely to do any of the work.

    Do one photo at a time, take great care, work on very small areas at a time, and be aware that even when people say "It's OK if something bad happens" they may not feel that way once it has happened.

    Good luck!

    - Randy
  5. an archivist will tell you to find a photo conservator, or maybe a paper conservator in a pinch--but you need to find a conservator at any rate, to get the best advice. In a public museum or archive, they won't do the work but will offer advice and will probably have a list of certified professionals in the area. It's a pretty highly specialized field, so you probably won't find any conservators in small institutions. I work in the largest history museum in my state, and we only have 2 conservators on staff, and the archives only has one or two. There's one more in another museum and that's it for the state sytem. If you came to the museum they'd send you to the archives, because the museum conservation lab doesn't do photographs. It's like going to a dentist and complaining about back pain or something--these guys specialize, and as professionals they're not going to step outside of their area and offer specific advice. I doubt any of them would tell you how to treat these, rather they would tell you how to store them and tell you not to do the work yourself, because there's always a chance the stuff will be destroyed.

    my stock answer is to always try to find the photo conservators for advice and not do any of this yourself. The problem is that it will be expensive to have them worked on. The conservators won't really restore tham as much as stabilize them from deteriorating further. It could be that what you need is some professional advice to weed out the ones that are basket cases and find the ones that can be realistically salvaged. I've seen stuff that was so badly deteriorated, that nothing could be done and I've seen things that could be conserved, but cost so much money to do so, that the work was never done because nobody could afford it. So--my advice is to be realistic. It could be that an approach would be to copy or scan them somehow in the best way possible and decide what to do with the originals. in other words--make a copy and restore the damage on that, and store the originals in such a way that they don't get worse.

    I really don't know though--and you likely won't either from looking at a book, or asking for help online. You need some hands-on advice and the best place for that is like the post above says, your state archive. good luck all the same, and my opinions only/not my employers.
  6. David, I vote for copying and thus starting with fresh negatives and print paper. Both easier and longer-lasting, unless these prints have some sort of sentimental value.

    A film designed for copying will yield better results than pictorial film. If you have a sheet film camera, I would recommend Ilford's Ortho Plus film. See the extensive directions on their website:

    By the way, this is a magnificent and highly under-used film for pictorial subjects as well. More photographers should check it out.

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