Preserving Photographs & Documents
Most things in life are moments of pleasure and a lifetime of embarrassment; photography is a moment of embarrassment and a lifetime of pleasure Tony Benn
Photographs and old documents
If you’re like most people, you’ve taken a lot of family photographs over the years. They may be in an album or thrown in a box to be look at from time to time by the kids. You might also have old family photographs of various ancestors which are in very poor condition.
Alone with photographs, you might have some old letters or journals written by family members or even ancestors. And you probably have various miscellaneous documents like birth, marriage and death certificates. Here are some suggestions on how they should be stored and/or displayed
How they should be stored
- Should be stored laying flat whether horizontal or vertical. Not folded in an envelope.
- Store in acid-free large envelopes or acid-free plastic make from either Mylar D, Polypropylene, or Polyethylene.
- Put your large negatives in paper envelopes not plastic. Put the dull side of the negative in the envelope so it is not facing any creases or joints of the envelope. Do not place them against each other. Have a piece of acid-free paper between them.
- Do not laminate your photographs. The glue will dissolve the emulsion on the photograph.
How to display your photographs
- Display copies of your photographs, not the originals. Store the originals under archival conditions as described above. Pictures will fade in sun light and even under the light from a light bulb.
- Don’t mount your photographs under glass without a air space provided at the margins of at least two layers of mat board. Photographs will stick to glass in time and can’t be removed without destroying them.
- Use “museum board” for matting material.
- Attached your photographs to the matt board with linen tape, not scotch tape or masking tape.
- Make sure that the tape covers the entire length of each side of the photograph.
- Experiment with different colors of matt board to bring our high lights of the photographs.
How to label your photographs
- Do not write on the back of the photographs. The ink will bleed through in time.
- Of course, do not write across the face of the photograph.
- Create labels or captions that can be mounted next to the photograph.
- Use permanent ink for your labels and detail as much as possible: who, when, where, and any details in the background or foreground.
- If you have to put a label on the photograph itself, do it on the frame or line area around the photograph.
Repairing damaged photographs
- There are many photo finishing companies that have computer equipment that can remove marks such as creases, tares, and spots. (Murphy’s law: if a photograph is torn or has a crease, it will be torn or creased across the face of the person in the photograph.)
- You can also purchase computer software and make your own repairs.
Preserving photographs forever
Scan in all photographs and burn on to a DVD. Now the technology of preserving photograph will change over the years but one thing is for sure these technologies will only increase the ability to preserve or enhance your photographs so they will be available for future generations to see. For a fuller discussion on this topic see Personal Archiving White Pager
Include narration as well on the DVD to describe the picture. Tell the date it was taken, the people in it, what they were doing if not evident, and anything else you feel that the viewer should know about.
There is nothing more frustrating than to have a family photograph and not know who is in it, or when or where it was taken.
Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University, Preserving Memories:
Caring for Your Heritage
Library of Congress, Family Treasures