From hundred year-old family portraits to wedding photos to your favorite snapshot from your last vacation, photographs are one of the best ways to capture memories. Even in the best of conditions photographs can suffer strange fates over time. Many of us remember that shoe box full of polaroids or the album with sticky, glue-lined pages full of faded, yellowing prints. Although we look back fondly on afternoons spent combing over these treasures, as it turns out these are very poor methods for storage. Temperature, humidity, adhesives, dust, insects, rips and tear, and even light itself, can be quite harmful. Since you can’t always predict what might happen preservation of these valuable photos is very important. This is where photograph restoration comes in.
Of all the different things that can happen to your photos, there are two main categories of damage: chemical deterioration and physical deterioration. Chemicals in the print itself undergo reactions over time either with catalysts in the environment or because the elements themselves are inherently unstable. Physical damage is represented by rips, tears, water stains, abrasive marks and stains left behind by insects, just to name a few.
Environmental factors like temperature and humidity fluctuations are problematic and can cause both chemical and physical damage. High humidity can cause problems like silver mirroring, discoloration and warping of the support layers in the photo. Silver mirroring is common in older photos and manifests as a silver/bluish reflective appearance in areas of dark shadows and is usually indicative of improper storage and unchecked humidity. In this process, air pollution and humidity team up (especially at higher temperatures) and oxidize the metallic silver in the emulsion layer of the photograph creating silver ions. These silver ions then migrate to the surface of the image giving the reflective, silvery/blue cast.
Light can also cause big problems with photos. Both natural UV light from the sun and man-made sources like fluorescent lights fade photos. Color photographs consist basically of red, green and blue (RGB) reactive dyes that, when exposed to light, create the final image. Of these three colors, red is usually the more resilient and as a result blue and green fade faster and leave behind the familiar reddish-orange look. Typically, color photos are more susceptible to fading than black and white photos due to the composition of the emulsion layer (the layer that reacts with light and actually creates the image). But fading isn’t dependent on light. Photos can fade in the dark (dark-fading) due to the inherent instability of the materials themselves. Obviously, older photos have had more time to experience these things, but also the way photo paper was made way back when contributes significantly to the likelihood of damage.
Rips and tears are pretty self-explanatory and can be more or less critical depending on where they happen. If a tear goes through some part of the background, or a solid area of color, it’s easier and less time consuming to repair. If, however, the crack, crease or tear runs through an important detail like someone’s face, it’s more difficult to repair. Creases, cracks, tears and water damage are some of the more common issues found in photos and can prove to be more troublesome. On the bright side, once a glaring physical issue like that is resolved, the result is astonishing.
Another challenge with older photos is air pollution. The presence of oxidants and/or sulfiding gases, as well as dust particles and other indoor pollution, can greatly affect your photos. The worst part is that these things can come from oddly surprising places, like plywood, cardboard, paint fumes and cleaning supplies. Of the many problems these factors cause, foxing is one of the more common.
Foxing is the term used to describe the appearance of speckles throughout a photograph; it is typically seen in older, vintage papers. The exact cause of foxing is not well understood but there are many theories. One theory is that it is caused by clusters of microscopic fungus that clump together to form the small dots. Another is oxidation. Much like rusting metal, oxygen mixes with elements in the photo to create brown or reddish (like the color of a fox, hence the name foxing) spots. Still another theory is humidity, which is a broader explanation and usually associated with other factors.
At Four Corners Gallery we use state-of-the-art technology and processes to restore and recover images that would have otherwise been lost for good. In doing so we are able to not only give you quality, archival prints that will long outlast traditional photographic prints, but we retain digitized copies in our records should you want additional prints, different sized photos, or, heaven forbid a replacement because something happened to your newly-restored print. Think of this process as an insurance policy that protects your cherished photos from any eventuality.