Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Demise of a Great Photo

We all know that we should keep our photos in acid-free storage pages, standing upright in cool dark places, but how many of us do it? I'm sorry to say that not all of the photos in our home are stored this way. I didn't expect to be bitten by the ravages of time like I was though.

My parents had a very good photo taken of themselves a few years before my father passed away. The 7x9" photo hangs on the wall in the long hall in our home that is adorned with photos of our family and ancestors. I suppose there is paint on the walls of the hall, but you'd need to scoot the photo frames aside to find it. I look at the photos every day as I meander down the hall to the 'black hole'. My wife and daughters have so christened my office with that name because my sons and son-in-laws tend to never surface again after they walk down the hall to visit me.

A while ago I stopped and closely looked at the photo of my parents only to gasp when I noted that the colors were becoming severely faded. The photo hangs in a location out of the sun, in fact, you'd almost say that almost all of the light in the hall has been sucked into the 'black hole' unless you turn on the overhead lights.

So why were the colors fading so fast?

There are several reasons; aging photo paper, chemicals on the surface of the photo breaking down over time and so on... It was time to make a high resolution scan of the photo and burn the file to archival quality DVD's and CD's.

Down came the photo. I carefully opened the back to expose the 1968 vintage interior to 2007 air and light. I didn't anticipate the problem that I immediately encountered. The photo was stuck to the inside surface of the glass in the frame! Not only stuck, but fractured, slimed and possibly melded to the glass below the level of the surface tension of its molecules! What to do.....

Well, you ladies know what this guy did in this situation. I pealed the photo off the glass (carefully mind you) and of course left a lot of the photo on the glass. There probably is some photo restorer out there who could have saved the photo in its entirety or at least saved more than I did, but who could wait for that? Apparently, not me.

Not all was lost. I'd scanned a 3x5" version of the photo 15 years ago and although the resolution was much smaller than the setting I use now, I still have a fairly good copy of the photo for my files. It doesn't make me feel much better but it helps.

So, do as I say, not as I've done. Digitize your photos and burn the files to many DVD's or CD's. Give copies of them to family members who live some distance away from you for safe storage. Store their backed up files and photos in return. Make hard copy clones of the photos that you really want to display. Hang the copy on the walls or propped up on your tables or on dad's desk at work. Keep your good / original copy in an archival quality sleeve inside an archival storage box in a cool dark place. Then you'll be able to remind me and others to do it right if we really want to keep our photos in good condition for a long, long time.

I've always enjoyed the vocals of Gail Davies. Here she is singing one of my favorite songs: "Grandma's Song"


Miriam Robbins said...

A lot of us family historians, genealogists, and family archivists never get around to scanning and preserving our precious family documents, records, and photographs...unless we make time to do so. That's why I started Scanfest. It's a time when we gather online and chat using Windows Live Messenger, while scanning our family treasures. Sally Jacobs, the Practical Archivist, just gave me the ultimate compliment by recommending Scanfest to a friend of hers, saying "it's like a quilting bee, but for scanning."

I invite you and your readers to join us next Sunday, September 30th, from 11 AM - 2 PM, PDT. Details can be found here.