Oh, I am such a push over for photos! Any kind of photos really. I especially love all the albums and boxes that my parents have collected over the years from their life. One of my favorite things to do is to sit down on the floor, pull out all those boxes and take a trip into my past. I find one this morning of my Mother with my older siblings in 1960 in my parents backyard. A glimpse of my mother's pride and peek at her youth is a satisfying experience. I examine this photo closely wondering what was she thinking just then? What about that dress she is wearing, was it new? And did my sister even have clothing? Is there anything in this photo that resembles me and my life? And as a photographer, I wonder who is behind the camera? Probably my Dad, and then I remember that is where I inherited my incurable photography addiction.
I have seen this photo a hundred times as it has been pulled out, talked about, put away in a shoe box and moved from house to house to house as our family grew up and spread out. It is part of who I am, proof of my family history, and it is as familiar to me as my own reflection. I treasure it, and I dream that the children of our family will treasure it someday too. So it must be my duty to preserve it. Did you know that a color photograph usually only lasts about 50 years? Uh oh, my older sister is 50 already!
I have taken on the responsibility family historian, collecting our family photos and finding a way to preserve them, a job I delight in doing. My project includes begging for photos from my family and extended family, scanning them, returning the originals, identifying the faces and then, hopefully and dreamily, giving back to my family in a better preserved form, maybe in a lovely book or a special frame. My sister Pam will get to have a copy of Aunt Maureen's photos, and my niece Jessica will get to see what Uncle Trent looked like and suddenly my family's memories are reconnected, renewed and preserved. Something to smile about.
A discussion of how to save them digitally is, well, endless and ever changing, but perhaps a few tips from the Professional Photographers of America might be worth sharing before those treasured photos in your shoe boxes are eaten by bugs or faded by the heat of attic and thus erasing visual proof of your family's history.
Here are just a few tips to preserve family photographs for future generations to enjoy:
To prevent photographs from sticking to the glass, always mat your photographs. Display or hang them away from direct light such as the sun’s ultraviolet rays and artificial light. Or, don’t use glass at all, but be sure to order a protective coating from a professional lab.
If your family heirloom is particularly old, have it scanned by a professional service and display a copy instead.
Acid-free paper and ultraviolet-resistant Plexiglass are better than standard mounting materials for preventing deterioration of photos.
A shelf in a center hall closet on the main floor of a house is an ideal storage location for photographs. Basements and attics are too damp or too dry. And it if is close the front door, you can grab it quickly in an emergency.
Store in a location that there is very little variation in temperature
Ideally, rare photographs – especially from the 19th century – should be stored in individual protective covers. Archival quality boxes or photo albums are also suitable for larger collections.
Avoid magnetic photo albums. The pages can eventually deteriorate and stick to the back of the photographs, and the plastic cover sheets can discolor the image.
Polyethylene or polypropylene sleeves, instead of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), are preferred when storing photographs or slides.
Try not to write directly on a photograph – use an enclosure sheet instead. If you must write on a photograph, use a pencil.
Brenda Colwell is a Family Portrait Photographer creating memories and treasured heirlooms for your family and something beautiful for your home. Book your own unique experience.