Preserving Memories Part 1 – How To Handle Your Photographs


Memories, aren’t they a wonderful thing? Hands up, is this image a familiar sight of how your family’s memories are stored? In the last year I have been researching my family tree and in the course of this I have been collecting the families’ documents and photographs. Recently a family member hit quite a major milestone, so I thought I would turn some of the photographs into a photobook; first there was picking the images and then digitising the images. This can be a quick or laborious process depending on the quality of the photographs. In this instance it has been the latter because the images haven’t been stored or handled correctly. I can’t tell how much correction has to be done for tea stains alone!

So, with the help of the British Library and volunteering at a museum for 4 years I thought I would write a series of posts about the handling, storage, digitisation and preservation of your treasured memories giving some simple practical tips to help you.

Tips for handling:

  1. Never eat, drink or smoke when handling photographs (difficult I know as we normally look at photographs over a cup of tea)
  2. Wash your hands before handling photographs and make sure they are completely dry do not moisturise or use any type of barrier cream.
  3. Make sure that your area is clear of dust, crumbs or wet patches (see number 1)
  4. Handle photographs by the edges; take care not to put thumbs on prints (I have had to remove a few of those from digital scans!)
  5. Use both hands to handle large photographs, or lay them on a flat surface (see number 3)
  6. View photographs in an even temperature room i.e. don’t sit on top of the fire when viewing them.
  7. If you must write on the backs of photographs do NOT use ink, use a pencil, preferably a HB or a B pencil with a blunt tip and a light touch as this will prevent indentation in the photograph.
  8. Never try to flatten out curled photographs as this can crack or tear them
  9. Don’t touch the surface of the photograph, again another difficult habit as we try to figure out who that is next to Aunty.
  10. Handle as little as possibly, especially older photographs (You may wish to consider digitising these images to preserve and protect)

Just a note about the use of gloves: If you wash your hands you should not need to wear gloves as it is thought that the loose fitting cotton gloves that you see presenters wearing on TV will greatly reduce dexterity and increase the chances of damaging paper documents. If you wish to wear gloves I recommend an unpowdered tight fitting latex or nitrile glove, but this is only necessary if you are handling dirty containers or your pictures are particularly old as some of the chemicals used to fix them were particularly nasty.

Hopefully this will help preserve your photographs for not only your own pleasure but for future generations. If you are looking at your photographs and wondering what to do, then give us a call and we can discuss your options.

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