There are a number of dangers that cause damage to a photograph. Often, the damage is irreparable and irreversible. Even with today’s innovations in the world of digitized photography, there are still some photos that are simply irreplaceable. Indeed, that picture of your grandmother in her teens or that picture of your ancient grandfather with his siblings will need a little bit more TLC. The TLC will give the photos a good dose of damage prevention.
Some Causes of Damage
Here are some elements that can cause the breakdown, tearing, fading or discoloration of a photograph:
- Acid. Acid can seep into the photograph paper and cause acid burn. This results in a fading or discolored image or brittle photograph paper that is prone to tearing. Even if the photographic paper is acid-free, the materials in direct contact with the photograph may have some acid content. The matting, mounting board and wood frame moldings can contain lignin (which later produces acid).
- Mold. When there is moisture and humidity, as well as a lack of air circulation, molds can form in organic material such as photograph paper. Mold can result in stains and the breakdown of the paper.
- Dust and grime. The dust and oils can collect on the surface of the photograph.
- UV rays. Sunlight and even artificial light can cause the photograph to fade.
- Mishandling. A photograph can be damaged when it is mishandled, like exposing it to the playful hands of a toddler or the paws of a curious pet.
Ways to Prevent Photo Damage
- Use archival material. There are different levels of archival protection. What is important is that you choose papers and boards that are free of acids and lignin. The matting and mounting boards can also act to prevent any acids from wood frame molding from seeping in.
- Keep the frames away from moisture. If not in use, store the frames in a dry place, away from damp areas such as attics, basements or bathrooms.
- Use spacers. Keep the surface of the photograph away from the glass with the use of matting boards or small spacers. That way, even when the presence of condensation from the inside of the glass, you minimize the possible damage to the photograph. One option is also to use a convex glass such as what is used in antique picture frames. The convex shape of the glazing minimizes contact between the glass and the photograph.
- Invest in quality UV acrylic glazing. High grade acrylic glazing not only has UV-protective capabilities. It is also shatter-resistant, lightweight (so the danger of dropping is minimized) and acid-free.
- Hang your picture frame away from direct sunlight. When choosing the location of your picture frame, it should not be in an area which is regularly exposed to direct sunlight.
- Allow the photo to breathe. Rather than taping and sealing the back of the frame with paper tape, the backing should be removable to allow for air to come in and out. This prevents trapped moisture and acid buildup.
- When cleaning the frame, remove the photo first. If you are using a spray cleaner during cleaning, take the picture out to prevent the possibility of watermarks. Otherwise, you should use a moist cloth to wipe off dust and grime from the frame and glazing.
- Practice good storage habits. When storing the frame, wrap it with bubble wrap or a towel. If the glazing (whether convex glass or acrylic glazing) breaks, this can cause scratches on the photograph.