In this difficult moment when so many are being affected by Hurricane Harvey, many people will be losing important belongings to the flood, namely family photographs. West Lake Conservators staff is available over the phone (315) 685-8534 to give you immediate directions and you can email our photograph conservator directly at email@example.com.
Photographs are particularly affected by water and often times will be totally lost. Here are some key steps to help minimize the damage:
- Air dry as soon as possible – If possible, the photographs need to be rinsed immediately in case they were affected by mud, and air dried not as a group but taking care to separate each object to avoid them sticking to one another. Spread photographs out over window screens, paper or cloth towels, newsprint, or hang them in clothesline. This commonly is not possible in the midst of the emergency and in a case of flooding and pouring rain there will be no dry place.
- Package and freeze – if equipment is available, it is important to halt deterioration as quickly as possible. An effective way to do this is to freeze the affected objects – place them in a bag or plastic container and freeze them as they are. Ideally one would want to separate each photograph to avoid them sticking to each other but, again, this is often not possible. Freezing objects as they are and in a group will slow the rate of material breakdown through water and the objects may be thawed, rinsed and dried at a later time. However, as we are seeing in Texas, there may be power cutout and freezers will not be working.
- Reduce humidity and temperature – most likely the options previously listed will be difficult to achieve. Therefore, it is important to attempt to minimize damage as much as possible in a short period of time as time is essential since deterioration will happen fast. Keep in mind that the image side of a photograph will commonly be composed of gelatin or similar material that will react rapidly to water – it will swell and be soft. Touching the image side of a photograph can risk wiping it, scratching it, and the image may be lost. With digital prints, inks may be soluble and the image may dissolve right off. Higher temperature will accelerate all of the damage. So it is key to move quickly, separate objects if possible, keep materials as cold as possible, use what is available to reduce humidity, avoiding touching the image side of photos (towels, cloths, diapers).
- Vacuum and low temperature – If time is limited and nothing is available other than bag your collection, consider pulling a vacuum inside the bag they are stored in (using a vacuum cleaner), keeping objects as a group, and keep them as cold as possible. This will still risk damage to the image layer in case the binders have already swollen and softened but will prevent mold formation and may slow down deterioration until you can address the collection and follow steps in point 1 (rinse and air dry).
West Lake Conservators has followed the news of the disaster with great apprehension and concern and is available to help in any way possible.
Through the links below you will find important information on what to do in case of disaster emergency:
- American Institute for Conservation Heritage Emergency Programs page
- American Library Association disaster preparedness resources page