Information on how to properly care for photographs, photographic prints and the care of photography collections. Since photographs can be easily damaged, taking precautionary measures is the best defense in protecting their values. This article and web page have been designed to help you understand the of care and handling of photographs. Resource books are featured at the end and they provide a wealth of knowledge on the subject.
Several everyday situations can potentially cause damage to photographs. Avoiding these situations and potential problems, is much easier than trying to correct damage once it has occurred. Major areas of concern are broken down into the following categories:
Handling the Photograph
Proper handling is one of the easiest and most effective ways to prevent damage to photographs.
Always wash your hands before touching a photograph and if possible wear clean white cotton gloves that are designed for handling art. When picking up a photograph always use both hands and make sure the back of the print is supported so it does not bend. Never touch the surface of a photograph with you finger. If you are trying to blow something off the surface, make sure you do not accidentally spit on the print. The surface of photographs can be damaged by sliding prints against each other and by placing objects on top of them. Once damaged this way photographs are very difficult if not impossible to repair.
Never hang or exhibit photographs in direct sunlight. Next, try to avoid strong indirect daylight. It’s a good idea to change prints frequently if they hang in strong light situations. Ultraviolet light is what you want to avoid. Many fluorescent tube lamps give off ultraviolet light, and filters are available and should be used. Also, you can purchase ultraviolet-shielding Plexiglas or glass when getting your photographs framed. Normal household light bulbs do not present a problem.
Heat and Humidity
Try to avoid extremes of heat and humidity. Keep photographs away from Fireplaces, radiators or other heating devices. When storing photographs keep them out of damp basements and hot attics. It is best to keep them at a constant temperature humidity, museums try to keep a temperature around 65 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity of 40%. If the humidity is too high, be on the lookout for Foxing, a type of mold growth. If you live in the tropics, the best advice I can give you is to contact a local museum in your area, for specific precautions.
Where you hang and store your photographs can make a big difference, if you choose the wrong place they may become damaged. Here’s my list of what you should try to avoid: Smog (good luck here), fumes from fresh paint, cleaning solvents, motor exhausts, burning wood and smoke of any kind, rubber bands and other rubber based products, moist air from the oceans. Also, try to avoid displaying photographs where food is being prepared (like a kitchen or a restaurant). The best way to protect your photographs remove them place them in a safe area whenever the conditions became extreme. Heavy duty air filtration systems are a commonplace in museums but most private collectors do not have them.
Photographs are processed and created in chemical baths. The responsibility of making sure the prints are clean and free of chemicals is the responsibility of the photographer. Unfortunately, there is not a lot that can be done once it has left the possession of the photographer. It sometimes takes years to discover whether a print was processed and washed correctly. It is a good idea to always inquire with seller or the photographer on whether archival print washing has occurred.
Keep an eye out for insects. Insects have been known to eat the emulsion on prints, and are attracted to certain types of glue such as wheat-flour paste. Also insect secretion can stain a print. A properly framed photograph is your best protection. If you see an insect in a framed photograph, remove it immediately and check for others. If you store your photographs, occasional check the storage area for nests of various kinds.
Damage can be avoided by securely attaching frames to the wall. There are several types of security hangers available, consult with you framer. Make sure to use good quality picture hanging hooks and that they are securely attached to the walls (preferably in a wooden wall stud).
Make sure you take your photographs to an framer that is experienced in handling photographs and knows archival framing. If they are not experienced, make sure that you stress to them the importance of proper handling and framing.
If your photograph is damaged and in need of repair, consider your options carefully, sometimes it is best to leave as is, because all restoration steps carry some risks. Proper framing, display and storage may be your best option instead of restoration.
If you are involved with a major move, make sure that you artwork is protected from the elements as well as uneducated movers. Look out for weather problems, wrap your artworks in plastic to prevent water damage and to protected frames use some cushiony material like towels or blankets. Corner protectors (cardboard slip on corners) are also available or you could completely wrap the artworks using bubble wrap, cardboard and tape.