by David Frohmader
As area flood waters begin to recede, the daunting (and unpleas- ber, they’re printed
ant) task of assessing the amount of damage caused by the flooding on paper and paper
will begin as soon as it’s deemed safe for homeowners to re-enter becomes fragile when
their property. I, personally, hope that the amount of personal wet. Remove as much
property damage isn’t as bad as the photos and video footage from loose dirt and de-
the news media make it appear — but I also know in the back of my bris as you can, being
mind that many families affected by the flooding will experience careful not to rub the
losses that no amount of insurance can replace. emulsion (image) side
of the photo as it will also be very fragile. If your photos are in
As a person who has a significant interest in photographs, I an album, it’s important that you remove them as soon as pos-
couldn’t help but think about the number of people who may not sible and to separate any photos that may be stacked together.
have had the opportunity to retrieve their family photos and/or Submerge them in a container of cold, clear water to keep
photo albums before their homes began to fill with water. To those them wet while you work to separate them.
families, I’d like to offer a little hope by sharing some information
that can help them to salvage as many photos as possible. 2. In small batches, carefully rinse your photos in cold, running
water until the overflow comes out clear. Don’t run the water
Depending upon the extent of water damage to your house, directly onto the photos as the current may also cause ad-
you may or may not be able to re-enter the property until it’s ditional damage to the photo surface. The only time it’s sug-
considered safe to do so. However, once (or if) you are able to gested to do so is when attempting to separate a photo from
get into your homes, you may be able to salvage some, or most, the glass of a photo frame.
of your family photos — but only if you act quickly and take some
extra care when handling them. 3. Once the water overflow comes out clear, you may remove your
photos individually or in the smallest number possible and care-
The first step, however, would be to assess which photos can fully attempt to separate them. If they do not separate easily,
be replaced by either having copies made from undamaged nega- do not attempt to pull them apart. Try to separate as many as
tives or by contacting relatives who may have duplicate prints you can before you return them to the cold water and begin
and making copies from those prints. This may reduce the num- working on a different batch of photos. Continue the soaking
ber of photos that will require restoration later on. and separating until you’ve been able to separate as many pho-
tos as you can. Please keep in mind that you may not be able
Don’t allow them to dry out! to successfully separate all of the photos and may have to take
them as a total loss.
When recovering your photos from your property, the first
reaction would be to get the photos out of the water and dry 4. The photos you were able to separate successfully should be
them off as soon as possible. This is not the best plan. Once stored in clean water until you are able to wash them individu-
photos are exposed to water, they have a tendency to stick ally. To wash them, you should, again, use cold, clean running
to each other or to any surface they are in contact with; such water and use a soft, cotton cloth to carefully remove any
as glass from photo frames or pages in a photo album. If they debris that may remain on the photo surface. After you have
are allowed to dry, it will become impossible to separate them cleaned your negatives and photos, give them one more rinse
without severely damaging them. The best advice is to keep in cold water.
them wet until you are able to separate them.
5. There are several suggestions for drying your photos after
If you plan on salvaging your photos, keep in mind that time is washing them. The things you want to avoid are having any-
of the essence. The longer your photos are exposed to moisture, thing come into physical contact with the emulsion side of
the greater the potential for irreversible damage. The following the photo print or to dry them in a manner that will increase
tips may help to minimize your loss: the chances of curling.
1. Lift the photos from the mud or water very carefully. Remem- I would suggest that you string some line indoors and hang your
CELLAR STUDIO ART & DESIGN Page 1
photos using spring-loaded clothes pins and allow them to air Freezing your photos for later salvage
dry. If you choose to dry them on a line, hang them by one
corner to allow the excess water to drip off. Do not help them If you find that you cannot spend the time needed to adequately
along by using a heated hair dryer as that will surely cause them salvage your photos right away, you may be able to freeze your
to curl. You may, however, set a fan in the room at a low setting photos and work on them later when more time is available. Freez-
to help circulate the air. Another method would be to lay out ing the photos will halt further deterioration and may still allow
blotter paper (paper towel) or soft, low-lint towels such as dish you the opportunity to salvage them when you have more time.
towels made from potato sack material, and place the photos Individual photos can be placed in small plastic bags and then put
emulsion-side up (face up) onto the towels and allow them to air into the freezer. It is suggested that you separate and clean your
dry. One final drying method is to purchase some plastic window photos using the methods previously mentioned before freezing
screen and stretch it between two saw horses. You can lay the them. Once you have the time to work with them, allow them to
wet photos, emulsion-side up, onto the screen and allow them thaw out and continue with the cleaning and drying process in the
to drip through the screen onto the floor. Again, the important previous paragraphs.
thing to remember is to avoid having anything come into contact
with the emulsion side of the photo while it is drying.
Conservation or Restoration?
6. If your photos do curl up during the drying process, wet the pa-
I would advise that you contact a conservator about the best
per side (back side) of the photos with a wet sponge and place
plan of action for your photos. The originals may simply be too
the photos between two pieces of acid-free paper or blotters
badly damaged to make it worth the cost of saving them. While
and set a flat, heavy object (like a book) on top of them for
you’re at it, you will also want to see if saving your photos will
one or two days. Be careful not to get the emulsion side damp
be covered under your homeowners insurance. You can get more
when doing this or your image will stick to the paper/blotter,
information from the Foundation of the American Institute for
which will defeat the purpose of all of this hard work.
Conservation by telephone at (202) 452-9545; by fax at (2020
452-9328; or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. FAIC’s web site is
7. After your photos have dried completely, you may then re-
located at http://aic.stanford.edu.
assess the damage. Some photos may experience some staining
or discoloration and you will have to decide whether or not you
If you are more concerned about saving the image itself than
want to have these photos digitally restored. It may also be a
about the condition of the physical photo, then you may want to
good time to consider having all of your photos scanned and ar-
consider having the image restored digitally by a photo restora-
chived digitally onto a CD or DVD. Having your photos digitally
tion expert. You may find it to be more cost-effective to have the
archived will ensure you that, if something disastrous were to
image digitally restored than to have the original photo restored
happen again, you will have the peace of mind knowing that
by a conservator. It will all depend upon the amount of value you
all of your family photos are safely archived on a disk and new
place on the photo.
prints can be made.
The benefit to digital photo restoration is that you not only have
Separating photo from glass picture frame— your image restored a better-than-new condition, but you also
have the benefit of having a digital file of the photo that can be
If you have photos that were mounted in picture frames with a used for archiving and for producing additional prints. If fact, it’s
glass front, separating the photo from the glass can be tricky and a good idea to have all of your photos digitally archived and stored
will require a judgement call on your part. Again, it is important in a secure place in the event that disaster strikes. Once more, you
to avoid allowing the photo and glass to dry out if possible. To will want to contact your insurance agent to see if your homeown-
remove the photo from the glass, gently run cold, clear water ers insurance will cover the cost of having your images restored.
between the photo and the glass plate. As you do so, very gently Following is a directory of area businesses and individuals that
attempt to pull the photo away from the glass but don’t force it. offer photo restoration services:
If the photo doesn’t separate easily, continue to rinse it under
the running water until it does. If this process fails and the photo Hemp Photography Sport Photo
127 S. Main Street 558 E. Clay Street
seems to be permanently cemented to the glass, leave the photo Jefferson, WI Whitewater, WI
mounted to the glass and allow it to dry thoroughly. You may be (920) 674-3939 (262) 473-2490
able to have the photo scanned through the glass and have it http://www.hempphotography.net
restored digitally. Contact your local photo restoration expert to Susie’s Photography Star Photo
see if this is possible. 305 Foster Street 2522 E. Milwaukee Street
Fort Atkinson, WI Janesville, WI
(920) 563-9469 (608) 754-8921
It is strongly advisable to wear rubber gloves when handling http://www.susiesphotography.com/ http://www.starphotojvl.com
flood-soaked items; especially if there is a chance that raw
sewage may be contaminating the water. The Red Cross is Cellar Studio Art & Design Moments and Memories
distributing clean-up kits and should have more information 519 Jackson Street 1089 Summit Avenue
Fort Atkinson, WI Oconomowoc, WI
about safely handling items exposed to flood water. (920) 568-8839 (414) 358-8111
Page 2 CELLAR STUDIO ART & DESIGN