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Recover Photos after a Disaster Flood waters can bring sediment and debris in contact with treasured photographs, and the water used to put out fires often causes more damage than the fire itself. But don’t give up hope – photographs are actually very resilient. Traditional Resin-Coated (RC) prints with a glossy or matte emulsion layer can usually be treated at home. Heritage and digital prints, however, have surfaces that are quite fragile when wet, and will require the specialized care and handling that only a professional photo conservator can provide. The variety of materials used to produce heritage and digital prints makes it difficult to recommend one sure-fire solution for home restoration. If possible, we recommend making reprints of photographs or digital images from any negatives or files that may be available before attempting to restore damaged photos. If you are unable to clean your photographs immediately, place them in plastic bags in a freezer until they can be cared for further. A freezer will slow fungal growth and ensure that your photographs are in a secure location. The following steps can be taken to rescue your photographs: Cleaning Step 1: Cleaning Step 2: Cleaning Step 3: With gloves on, place Soak or rinse the photos with cold Conduct a final rinse photos in cold water in water. A gentle stream of water may using cold, distilled small groups of one to be sprayed on the photo to help water. This will wash five. Handle the photos loosen debris. Change the water away any residue by the edges only. frequently to keep your work remaining from the environment clean. Repeat this cleaning process. process if necessary. Air Drying: Flattening Photos: Lay photos flat to dry on either a paper If the photos are curled after they are dry, towel or on plastic or aluminum screening place individual photographs between two material fastened to a frame. You may sheets of blotting paper. Place flat, heavy also hang the photos by one corner using books on top of the sheets for 24hours in small clothespins. Drying should be done a humid environment. in a shaded part of your home. Why cold, distilled water? The image on a photograph is held by the emulsion layer, which is destroyed by high temperatures, humidity and steam. So, when you use water to clean your damaged photos, keep the immersion time to a minimum and keep the water temperature below 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Distilled water is best for the final rinse, since it’s free of impurities and won’t add to the impurities already on your photos. If your photographs require additional treatment after these steps, we recommend that you contact a professional photo conservator to seek further advice. A professional can also scan, retouch and reprint the photographs. We also suggest using Photo-safe photo mounting paper for your albums to limit the damage to your albums from flood or fire. For more in-depth information on rescuing digital and traditional prints, Creative Memories has also made available the Image Permanence Institute’s publication A Consumer Guide for the Recovery of Water-Damaged Digital and Traditional Prints.
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