Preserving Old Photographs

Photo Projects, Preserving Old Photographs

What archivists say about the preservation of photographs

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  1. Avoid dampness. It causes photos to stick together and promotes mold growth.
  2. Give them a good home.  Above ground interior closets maintain fairly constant temperatures throughout the year and make a good choice for storage.
  3. Copy them now. Color dyes used in photographs printed before the mid-1980s irreversibly decay with time–and fade dramatically when displayed. When stored in boxes or albums they might last only 20 years.  For older photos that we hope to keep for future generations, the National Archives recommends they be copied now and printed onto the more stable color photograph papers.
  4. The National Archives website provides a lot of information about caring for family archives.  

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Retouching faded or scarred photographs is particularly challenging and time consuming, but worth it for a cherished family heirloom.  Watch a time lapse video of my retouching here.

The good news is that since the mid-1980s and especially since 1990, major photographic manufacturers have developed more stable dyes.  These photo prints are not likely to fade over a lifetime–and if properly stored, will last perhaps 100 years.

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