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Paper repair vs. photo restoration

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Old 12-05-2001, 12:31 AM
Doug Nelson's Avatar
Doug Nelson Doug Nelson is offline
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Paper repair vs. photo restoration

I don't know about y'all, but I'm getting tired of people emailing me asking if I can physically repair (ie: mend the paper fibers and/or emulsion) photos. Even worse are the ones simply asking if I'll teach them how.

There's only one possible reason for this: profit. I personally suspect E-bay as the motivating factor in all this. People hoping to increase the collectable value of a photo.

The tip-off is if a person isn't concerned about what the photo is actually of, at least not in a personal way. They just want the creases removed, or tears mended, or (the worst) signatures altered on the original to increase its value.

I have no problem with removing creases or tears or even signatures digitally because a) it means the image means more to that person than the paper it's on, and b) however good the quality or pleasing the restoration, you will always be able to tell a digital print from a photograph.

But if the paper itself means more than the image, I immediately suspect someone is hoping to hide damage, and there's only one reason to hide anything: you're hoping to fool somone.
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Old 12-05-2001, 07:48 AM
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There is a growing demand for this type of "service" and sooner or later anyone who does restorations is going to be confronted by a potential client who wants something done, which if not with outright illegal motives, is ethically incorrect. My policy is not to do any physical alterations on the original image except for brushing off surface dirt with a camels hair brush or minor degrees of flattening on more modern photos which have curled. The current thinking among conservators is to do as little as possible to the original in the way of major fixes, prefered treatments now being directed more towards proper storage, careful control of Relative Humidity and temp. and displaying only under incandescent light at levels no greater than around 50 - 90 lux. The rule of " Do nothing which is not reversable" sounds nice but is not practical in most cases, as once a chemical or mechanical procedure is done, it cant be undone without causing at least some damage. There is a growing market for older photos and many, depending on the type of process used, event or people depicted, and over all condition bring premium prices.
Better to just advise clients on proper storage and confine the physical restoration to the scanned copy. If the client insists on having the original worked on, send them to a Conservator--besides the ethical considerations there are very real legal pit falls to be considered as some folks are not above suing at the drop of a hat and unless you are insured and have credentials documenting your expertise, you could end up in a very unplesant situation. Tom
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Old 12-06-2001, 10:40 PM
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Doug, I have not run into this scenario myself, but I imagine I will at some point. Very interesting.

Excellent points, Tom. I've never had a problem referring clients to someone who might be able to help them better than I - and I think this would be one of those times!! –Jeanie
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Old 12-07-2001, 09:05 PM
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Ed_L Ed_L is offline
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I think that's a problem that might increase with the growing number of collectors today. I think Tom said it all about ethical and possible legal issues. The things people do for money simply amaze me each and every day.

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Old 12-07-2001, 09:58 PM
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DJ Dubovsky DJ Dubovsky is offline
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Thankfully, I've never encountered that kind of request but I'm pretty small time operation here. I couldn't do it even if they asked but it doesn't surprise me that there are those out there trying to fool the collectors. Forgery goes way back to the beginnigs of the human race. Some of the most widely forged items were religeous relics going back to the time of Christ and beyond. I guess it's another one of those "oldest professions".
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