Since the devastation in Texas, I have gotten so many messages asking for guidance on how to save photographs.
I am by no means an expert in this, but I did what I could for people here in the Baton Rouge area last year using the tools I had available. In doing so, I was able to save memories for dozens of families, amounting to nearly 6000 photos. What I’m sharing here is the method to my madness, and may not be the best thing for every photograph.
Wear gloves and a mask.
The flooding was nearly two weeks past by the time I got the first batch of water-logged photos. Needless to say, the smell when I opened the containers and trash bags they were being held in was overwhelming.
Do not put yourself at risk for breathing in mold and other bacteria, or getting it under your skin. Keep in mind some of these photos may have been submerged in sewage. Be sure to wear latex, nitrile, or vinyl gloves while you work, as well as a dust mask.
When people would bring me their photos, I’d wrap them in old towels and put them in my deep freezer. This doesn’t “dry the pictures out,” but it stops the water from further damaging the ink and stops bacteria from growing. To remove them from plastic album sleeves or envelopes, I’d submerge them in a bucket or bin of clean water, then lay them flat to dry. Having an exacto knife or a utility knife with a sharp sharp razor helps to cut them out of the plastic.
The water will start to run again as the photos thaw out. I’d only take a few pages or envelopes at a time (depending on how they were stored) and work on those.
Use drop cloths and towels you don’t care about.
If you’re working inside your own home, protect your surfaces from bacteria by using plastic drop cloths and old towels/t-shirts/etc. to lay the photos to dry flat.
Wax paper keeps them from sticking again.
I got a ton of wax paper and cut into small squares to put between each photo. The way the ink was after they dried, some images wanted to stick together again. The wax paper helped make them easier to separate, and it didn’t pull more ink off the photo paper.
Use big books to curb the curl.
They will want to curl up as they dry. Once you’ve put them between wax paper, lay heavy books on top of them to help flatten again.
Store in air-tight containers.
Even though you’ve “cleaned” them, the photos will still have a mildewy smell. Store in air tight containers (ziploc bags, etc.) along with a mothball packet or cedar ball to keep the smell and little critters away.
I’ve included some rambling videos I made during my salvaging last year for reference. Again, I’m not an expert – just a woman who wanted to help.
Rambling a bit but here you go.
Posted by Jennifer Esneault on Sunday, August 21, 2016
And here are a few other videos:
If you’ve got any questions or need more help, please don’t hesitate to reach out. <3 I’m here for you, and I’ve got your back.