Tag Archives: old photographs

Copies Rock

If you’ve been following my little blogging attempts for a while you’ll know that I have a great passion for old photos. Looking at them, talking about them, the people and places they show, and also displaying them. It’s my thing.

While a lot of people have kept negatives and slides from decades ago, and have the printed photo in an album or a picture frame, most would be hard pressed to find that particular negative or slide to have another print made, should their first print get lost or damaged in any way. And the vast majority of people do not even have any negatives or slides, either because they were thrown out eons ago or because their old photos are from a time where there weren’t any negatives. Or the photo they have hanging on the wall in their bedroom was done by a professional photographer, who didn’t hand out negatives or copies.

Displaying an original is not a good idea, because it definitely will get exposed to light (sunlight or artificial light) and very likely get exposed to dust, humidity, to the acids in non-archival frames, backings and matting, or get stuck to the glass of the frame, which happens more often than you might think.

Have a look around your home: if you have any photos displayed – and you should 🙂 – are they the originals?

If they are, I suggest you tackle this task over your next free weekend, and have copies made, or make them yourself. Then you put the copy back up in its frame on the mantle piece and the original photo safely in an archival album. That way your original is not in any danger.

If it is already a copy, well done. Better check you still have that original, or the negative, or the slide, and if not, get a copy of that copy.

To get copies is so easy these days:

  • Use your copy/printer and simply print a copy of your photo. Naturally a copy on ordinary white copy paper won’t deliver a flash result, maybe you want to look into investing in some proper photo paper, it has come down in price a lot in recent years
  • Maybe you have a copy/printer + scanner. Scan your photo, save it on a thumb drive and go to your nearest photo print place. Prints cost next to nothing these days, and if it’s a good photo print place, they will be able to assist you if you have any questions.
  • If you have a fancy camera: put your photo on a flat white surface in a well lit room (no direct sunlight) and take a photo of your photo. You can then either upload on a computer or laptop or take your memory card directly to a photo print place. Or print it yourself if you have a decent printer and want to invest in photo paper.
  • Use your smartphone as you would the fancy camera.

Old photos in particular have odd sizes. Simply print bigger and use some fancy scissors to cut them out, like I did with the two shown in the picture.

Copies rock

Copies rock. I have a whole lot of them of original family photos like that, and I change them around all the time 🙂

 

 

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For the Love of Beer

Digital restorations of old photographs can be tricky. Some can be outright nightmarish. The more one zooms into the image, the more damage becomes visible. Somehow it becomes quite obsessive to fix ‘everything’ and I have had nights where I’ve been dreaming in pixels after a long session at the computer during the day.

In this beer advertising from the 1950s, the very pretty model with the very elegant hands holds this for today’s standards very unbeer-ish glass in the air, a bit like a chalice. It’s a fine piece of photography, but the 8×10″ print has suffered over time.

Resto

As always, my main goal is to get the digital restoration as close to what the image would have looked like on the day it was printed as possible. There’s a fine line in overdoing it.

In the original, the only things in sharp focus are the hands and the glass, the bottle was deliberately left slightly blurry, and the face of the model was totally out of focus. I did not change that, but made sure I worked very neatly on the hands and glass, which are the main focus.

In the close-ups you can see the damage, the scratches, all the little spots and specks, that needed to go.

Restob

And the fingerprint. It always makes my heart skip a beat, when I find fingerprints on photos. Yes, paper and inks back then were different, but please, please, please don’t ever handle photos, old or new, it doesn’t matter, unless you hands are clean and dry, and hold by the edges only. The white glove thing is a myth, I have attached a link to that here, if you’re interested in reading up on that.

And I have done some research on the beer, which is a fine brew from the Swan Brewery in Perth. You can purchase this very label for a reasonable amount on e-bay, if that takes your fancy.

Love the history part of old photos 🙂

 


Old Fashioned ?

During the January summer holidays I had finally tackled the long overdue clean-up of my studio. New props and backgrounds meant I was running out of space. Oh, the things I ‘found’.
If ever you see a person rummaging through the ‘sales’ box at the craft and art shop, that’ll be me. So many ideas and things to do and create! The kids and I have done lots of little and bigger projects over the years, but there was a backlog. There’s one thing I never run out, and that’s ideas.
As I had run out of space though, these ideas had to be put into action presto, to get some of the boxes empty and ready to take on new and different goodies.
Years and years ago I found this DIY Clock Set in said ‘sales’ box at the craft shop. I have a thing for clocks, and finally, I found a nice use for it.
I measured the wooden clock face and used Photoshop to create the background by incorporating the originals of some of my favourite digital restorations.
Once printed on normal A4 paper, I cut out the circle shape and glued it on the wooden clock face using ModPodge. Once it had dried, I used a paint sponge and gave it several thin layers of ModPodge, letting each dry completely before applying the next. Last was a thin layer of acrylic sealer, just to give it a bit of shine not too much, I’m not a huge fan of the big gloss.
Then the clock motor was put in (it runs on battery) and that was that. It sits on the sideboard in my office now and I like checking the time on this one much more than on my laptop or my phone. Call me old fashioned 🙂

RestorationClock


Action Plan – Three – Storage and Cleaning

Action Plan – Three – Storage and Cleaning

Remember when I said: ‘Photographs will fade, no matter what you do. Paper will deteriorate, no matter what you do.’ But you can slow down the process by avoiding their exposure to heat, light, humidity and pollution.

Only way to do this is by storing them properly. Firstly, consider the place:

  • Areas with high risk of leaks should be avoided: this includes walk-in-robes or any cupboards which have a shower or laundry on the other side of their back wall. This also includes any roof space (attic) or areas under the house (basement, cellar, garage), as roofs can leak and cellars can flood in heavy rain.
  • Areas that get very hot and humid, followed by cold, dry temperatures should be avoided: again, this largely means any roof space and under the house.
  • Avoid areas around fireplaces, heaters, dryers etc.
  • A good rule of thumb is storing precious photographs and documents where you are also comfortable, not too hot, cold, wet or dry: usually the living-room, the bedroom or even the home office.

Secondly, think about what to use to store everything: There are many good and save options for storing photographs and documents, depending entirely on your personal preference and your budget.

  • Archival boxes: Boxes can be out of metal, cardboard (lignin free, acid free, un-buffered cardboard) or plastic (Polyester, Mylar, Polypropylene, Polyethylene or Tyvek plastic, but not PVC, which is the plastic with the strong smell, so a box from the Dollar Shop won’t do).
  • Albums: They are the most popular storage medium for photographs. Simple acid-free and magnetic-free slip-in albums are a great option to both keep your photos save and be able to look at them without directly touching them. Again, make sure you choose an album made of Polyester, Mylar, Polypropylene, Polyethylene or Tyvek plastic, but not PVC. Archival storage albums are more expensive than conventional albums, but they can well be worth the investment. They are available at most archival suppliers (and here), some office supply stores and good quality scrap booking places.
  • Envelopes: good quality acid-free, high alpha-cellulose papers that are buffered against changes in pH have proven to be most satisfactory for enclosing photographs and documents. Avoid envelopes with the seam down the center and make sure the glue of the lip does not touch the photo, ideally, just cut the lip off.

Cleaning

Now it’s time to look at the state of your photographs and documents. It is certainly not necessary and not really the idea to make an old document look absolutely new and pristine, however, gentle surface cleaning sometimes improves the overall appearance, and it can also remove substances that could eventually cause damage to the paper or be transferred to other papers during handling.

Just to clarify at this point: When I talk about ‘documents’ I am referring to manuscripts, letters, maps. This does not include newspapers, books of any type or fine art prints, drawings or paintings. I have no expertise in any of those, and I would not consider them for any type of DIY surface cleaning. If you need advice on that, please consult a professional conservator.

Tools for Surface Cleaning

Brush: a clean, soft brush is great for giving dusty photographs or documents a gentle wipe over. The brush used for surface cleaning should not be used for anything else. If a brush was used on mouldy material it should be labelled and kept separate and not used for anything else. Never use the brush wet.

Scalpel: a scalpel with a pointed tip or a craft knife are excellent for picking off little insects or insect excretions as well as rust deposits, as they would be left by rusted paper clips. These rusty stains are not only ugly but could also be an ongoing source of damage to the paper. It is a good idea to very carefully remove them. Needless to say to be very, very, very gentle when using a scalpel on a photograph, you don’t want to scratch the surface.

Erasers: good quality erasers can do wonders. Best would be a non-coloured one, these are available as solid blocks and in kneadable form. These kinds are used for art purposes and are available in good art stores. Ask a shop assistant for help if you’re not sure, as there are many types. With erasers it is important to use them very gently only and make sure to not leave any residues. Again, be very careful with photographs. Generally, I avoid using an eraser on the photo itself, but I have used them on the white frames around old photographs and on their backs to remove some dirt and pencil writing.

Sticky tapes and any sort of glue are a nightmare. Sticky tape can stick things together that are not meant to stick. Old sticky tape falls off but leaves ugly marks and the residue keeps eating away on the materials underneath. Use the scalpel or craft knife to cut away sticky tape that is already loose. Other than that there is not much you can do, resist the urge to scratch it off! Learn the lesson and never, ever use sticky tapes or glue on your documents or photos!

Mildly mouldy documents or photographs definitely need a surface clean. Mould goes dormant in low humidity, so don’t attempt this in sticky Australian summer months when humidity is high: use gloves and a particle mask (from the hardware store), separate all items and spread them out in a well ventilated room, away from children and pets, and let them dry. Mould is dry when not smeary or smelly. Brush off the mould with a separate dry brush, don’t forget to wear your mask. Dealing with mould is a delicate process and requires careful work hygiene to avoid contamination. If you decide you have too many items that are mouldy, consider digitizing them as they are, and then disposing of them altogether. If you are going ahead with the process of cleaning them, remember to check back on them regularly, as mould is often dormant, but not dead, and can bloom again in high humidity. At all times, keep them separate from your non-infected documents and photographs.

This is a big subject, I hope I didn’t scare you too much 😉   Next one will be more fun, I promise.

Coming soon: Action Plan – Four – Digitizing and Labelling

Read the first two posts about Action Plan here and here.

ActionPlanThree

 


Action Plan – Two – Handling and Sorting

The last post explained how to assess the collection of old photos and documents that somehow ended up in your possession. In this post I will get into details on how to handle your old photos and documents. Most are common sense, but some might surprise you.

  • Have a clean area to work in, ideally near a large window, for light. Don’t sit in the sun and don’t turn on any artificial light. Generally avoid exposing the items to light as much as you can, so if you intend to work on them today, do it, and then tidy them up again. Don’t leave them lying around for days on end.
  • No food or drink anywhere near your working area, please.
  • Wash and dry your hands thoroughly before handling any items, and many times in-between (to be using cotton gloves is a bit of a myth it turns out, for which I am glad, because it’s really hard to sort through anything paper while wearing them: ‘Misconceptions about White Gloves‘).
  • Carefully flatten folded photos and documents. There are ways to separate them if they are sticking together. I have read about them, but I’ve never had to use them. ‘How to Flatten Folded or Rolled Paper Documents‘.
  • Hold at the edges only.
  • Remove staples, paper clips, rubber bands, sticky envelopes.
  • If you must write on your items, do so with a light pencil only, don’t press down too hard. Write legible, someone might have to pick up the work after you, don’t make their job harder because they cannot read your notes.
  • Use plastic sleeves when documents are too brittle to be handled without support. They should be enclosed but not encapsulated.
  • Never laminate papers or photographs.
  • Do not use glues or sticky tape to mend ripped items.

When sorting larger amounts of photographs, I find that initially spreading them out on our very large dinner table is the best way to go. Then I might sort them by occasion (wedding), chronologically or even by amount of deterioration eg. all undamaged photos first, then gradually getting worse.

In this initial sorting stage you could just keep everything in large acid free envelopes (cut off the sticky bit, glues and papers don’t mix). Or you could already look into where you will put everything as a long-term storage solution: acid free folders and boxes, and chemically stable plastics. This is a big subject, and I will get into this more in the next post.

I have a couple of high quality archival boxes which fit A4 sizes. With acid free cardboard separators and lots of acid free paper in-between I can easily keep photos and documents sorted, labeled, and separate from each other. It helps to have things orderly, because it will likely be impossible to do everything you want to do with them in one week. I tend to keep photographs and documents separately.

For this task not to get too tedious and frustrating, set yourself achievable goals. Finish one step at a time and don’t be afraid to walk away from it all for a couple of weeks.

Once everything is sorted to your satisfaction, and you found a way to tidy items up properly and store them safely, it’s time for the next assessment: which of them and to what degree do they need a surface clean?


Action Plan – One

So it has happened. Because of a sad family loss or other tragic circumstances beyond your control you ended up being in possession of a shoebox full of old photos and documents.

You’ve looked through them. Faces, places, stories, that may be familiar to you. And very likely, you come to realize that this is a puzzle with a lot of missing pieces. That’s what I thought when I ended up with lots of photos of my Grandmother from when she was young. I certainly recognized her, but who were the people in the photos with her? Why were they laughing? Where was this taken?

The documents you inherit may be old, fragile. The photos may be damaged, ripped, stained, moldy.

You’re thinking: “What on earth am I going to do with all this?”

First thing: Take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. It happens all the time.

This post will be the first of a few that should help you get enough advice to get an idea of what may be involved in the process of assessing and storing old photos and documents.

In my experience, there are three categories of photos and documents:

1. They have no value other than that of the personal/sentimental kind, as it would be for family history. Their damage is minor, there is no mold present. The primary focus should be on getting them digitized, photos sorted and labeled and documents transcribed. This will ensure that should they deteriorate further or get lost, you have saved them for the family. Digitizing also means that you can share them with family that might not be living close by you. Sharing files online is an awesome advantage of our digital age. Once digitized, sorted and transcribed, the originals need to be stored correctly.

2. If you suspect the photos or documents to have collector’s value, you may want to get an appraisal for them. If their value is minor, you don’t intend to handle them much but still want to keep them save, you might want to follow the steps above. If their value is substantial and the plan is to handle them frequently, I strongly suggest you consult a conservator.

3. The whole lot is moldy and smells. This is a health hazard. I hope you were wearing a particle mask and gloves while flicking through them! Keep the moldy stuff well away from anything else, before it contaminates everything in its surroundings, and please consult a professional conservator ASAP.

Understand this: Photographs will fade over time, no matter what you do. Paper will deteriorate, no matter what you do. But you can slow down the process by avoiding their exposure to light, heat, humidity and pollution.

The photo below shows some snippets from a collection of about 20 letters from WW1, that I had the great honour of digitizing recently. This involved preparation of the previously folded letters for photographing, by carefully flattening crushed edges and pressing them overnight between acid-free sheets of paper, building a suitable document stand with a large white background, photographing them by daylight, without direct sun and no flash or any other artificial lighting sources. They were in very good condition so only needed some basic digital retouching to increase contrast and enhance the faded ink. Lastly they were all saved on a USB thumb drive, for their owner to share with the family.

One hundred year old letters. It was very moving to read what young men so long ago wrote home to their families.

So if you’re tempted to just shove that shoebox back into the back of the closet: don’t. It’s someone’s history. Treat it right.

BlogLetters