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Rescuing wet photo collection

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Old 01-28-2008, 12:22 AM
Scott Rose Scott Rose is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2008
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Rescuing wet photo collection

In searching the web, I found this forum and hope someone here can help. This is my first post to any forum and it's a whopper.

I have 5000+ photos from my brother that are wet following a fire and not much time to work on them.

So far, I've been trying to keep them from drying completely and then soaking them a few at a time in plain water until soft enough to pull apart (gently). With so many photos it will take weeks, I'm worried that keeping them wet until I get to them will soften the emulsion too much before I can finish with them.

Which is riskier; letting them dry into photo bricks (perhaps never to separate) or keeping them wet and risking them getting too soft (or molding)?

Would it be worth it to buy a freezer to freeze them until I can work on them?(recent temps in the Boston area have kept them refrigerated in any case....)

Does anyone know how to do things more quickly? How can I dry this many photos and negatives without them curling? Hiring professionals to do this would be prohibitively expensive given that insurance won't cover the cost.

As to the actual separating:
For the photos that were directly touching the storage envelopes (generic paper from the processors) the paper invariably disintegrates and leaves fiber layer on top of the photo. Any further attempts to remove it starts to remove the emulsion from the photo. Soaking longer just seems to make the emulsion more likely to separate from the photo.

Does anyone have any suggestions for how to separate stuck photos quickly and efficiently or have specific recommendations on how long to soak, water temperature, etc.?

In general, just having the image is more important than the quality. Most of them are not 'art', just generic travel snapshots, but some are irreplacable portraits of family and friends. Unfortunately, I can't tell which is which until I separate them....

Thank you.

P.S. If I manage to get these stabilized, I'll then move to a different forum to ask about scanning, cataloging, and retouching....
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Old 01-29-2008, 06:05 PM
CJ Swartz's Avatar
CJ Swartz CJ Swartz is offline
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Location: Metro Phoenix area, Arizona
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Re: Rescuing wet photo collection

Scott, look at the following posts (I'll add as I find ones that offer info) - read Sweetlight's post (he's a professional photographer) who mentions DISTILLED water for soaking rather than tap water, and then read the parts about breathing and relaxing (and something about beer )

Another thread that includes some success stories -

That thread also included a link to FEMA -

Last edited by CJ Swartz; 01-29-2008 at 06:13 PM.
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Old 01-29-2008, 07:57 PM
Janet Petty's Avatar
Janet Petty Janet Petty is offline
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Location: Mid-South
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Re: Rescuing wet photo collection

I searched for ways to restore water/fire damaged photos and came up with these four sites. They all have some good information in them. Good luck.

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Old 01-29-2008, 11:57 PM
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klassylady25 klassylady25 is offline
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Join Date: Nov 2005
Location: Edmond, Oklahoma
Posts: 342
Re: Rescuing wet photo collection

Dave Ellis's family just had a new baby. He's the man behind the scenes at OPR (Operation Photo Rescue) and he may take a bit of time in answering, however if you go to: You could write to Christine Pentecost and get an anwer sooner.

Just a thought for you.

Volunteer with OPR since 2005
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