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photo repair (not restoration)

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  • photo repair (not restoration)

    I get about an email a month asking for actual physical repair of a photo. I'd no idea there was actually an industry for this until Jim Conway posted.

    So, let's discuss. Who's doing it? How's it done? What educational resources are there out there?
    Learn by teaching
    Take responsibility for learning

  • #2
    I was hoping someone would respond here because I am curious about the traditional processes. I can see how dirt and stains might be managed and even fading but how do they fix physical damage such as tears and folds etc.


    • #3
      Photo Repair

      Hi Guys!

      I'm new to RetouchPRO so I wanted to put in a post and get my feet wet.

      I am a paper and photographs conservator so I not only do digital restoration but also physically repair photographs, cases, and such. I might be able to help answer some of the preservation type questions.

      There are a lot of physical repairs that can be done to photographs to preserve them such as repairing tears, removing tapes and adhesives, cleaning off grime, infilling, inpainting and so on. You will find few conservators who will tell you how to clean or repair a photograph as a "Do it yourselfer" mainly because it is so easy to screw one up. Photographs can be tricky things to work on and the exact treatment that is used is dependant on many factors one of which is the type of photograph (emulsion and support structure). Every photograph is a different and requires a different approach to treatment. In fact I will rarely give ballpark estimates without seeing the piece and doing a few tests first.

      For anyone thinking about having a valued photograph physically repaired I highly recommend contacting a trained photo conservator rather than trying to do it themselves. A good way to go about finding one that meets the professional standards is to contact the American Institute for Conservation's referal system at

      Well that's my two cents for now. Thanks for listening




      • #4
        A most sincere welcome to Retouch Pro. Finally we have another person in the conservation end of things and you will find we are all eager to learn what is involved. I'm in total awe of your end of the business and from what you've said briefly it sounds pretty involved.
        I do have a question though. How do you fix cracks or rips in photos? I would think physical damage would be the real stumbling block.


        • #5
          Heather, do you mind if I ask you how you got into such an interesting career?



          • #6
            Welcome, Heather. It's great to have folks with your skills and background on board! Tom


            • #7

              Easy question I got into the field...

              I was interested in restoration from highschool (the restoration of the sistine chapel) and during my first year of my art and art history degree I realised I didn't really want to be a starving artist (truthfully I wasn't into creating art for the inner meaning, I just wanted to create it for fun and to try new materials...I couldn't see making money at it). So at that point I decided to take the courses that I needed to point me in the direction of an art conservation master's degree and looked for opportunities to get experience in the field.

              There is only one school with a conservation master's program in Canada so I applied and as luck would have it I got in.

              So, Sharon, that's my story.

              Now onto DJ's question about cracks and tears in prints....

              As I said before it really depends on the type of support and emulsion. Let's say it is a fiberbased gelatin print with a tear. I would probably apply wheat starch paste (which is removable and non-staining over time) along the tear and re-align the tear followed by a repair on the verso with Japanese paper attached with starch paste. Sometimes there is some loss of emulsion and the loss has to be toned (colored) to match.

              When a photograph has cracks a conservator is concerned with how they got there and what can be done to keep it from happening again and stopping the cracks from becoming flaking emulsion resulting in loss of image. Areas are typically consolidated to keep them from getting worse. With a gelatin photo the choice might be to apply warm gelatin into cracks and under flakes to reattach. And of course the cracks and losses can be toned to match.

              I must note that a conservators approach to treating a photograph is much different than a restorer's (non-digital). The conservator's prime interest is to preserve the piece with a secondary interest in asthetic appearance. The materials they choose must be compatible with the piece, removable (when possible) and stable over time. They are not interested in tricking the viewer into thinking a piece is in pristine condition. For example when I say a loss is toned I mean that it is colored to match the tones of the image but not necessarily to disguise the loss. At a normal viewing distance the loss wouldn't stand out but on closer examination it would be noticable.

              Ok enough conservation speaches for one night.



              • #8
                Thanks for the insight Heather. It's fastinating but I can see I have alot to learn. I never realized the difference between conservation vs restoration non digital. That was an interesting tidbit.

                I hate to drill you with questions but filling the cracks with geletin I understand but what do you do to make the photo smooth again. Most of the cracks and tears I've seen actually distort the photo. Do you apply some type of pressure while drying to regain the flat surface?


                • #9
                  A quick question, Heather. If the problem is primarly that of a tear or crack of the emulsion layer or emulsion layer and support without severe or generalized detachment of the emulsion layer, (like the "dried cracked mud" look), is it better to attempt to paste/tape the damaged areas or to mount the photo on a ridged hinged (clam shell like) support mat, then in a suitable enclosure ?Thanks Tom


                  • #10
                    Thank you for the insite! Boy,...I really like hearing what you all do for work....especially when you can make a living doing something so interesting. Welcome


                    • #11
                      Hi again

                      DJ, yes planar distortion (a wavy surface) can be reduced by humidification and flattening.

                      And for Tom who asked is it better to attempt to paste/tape the damaged areas or to mount the photo on a ridged hinged (clam shell like) support mat, then in a suitable enclosure?

                      My approach would be to repair the damage first and then mat the photograph.

                      NEVER use tape on photographs or anything of value for that matter. Tape will yellow and stain the emulsion and support. These stains are typically not repairable. Most glues can be damaging as well. For anyone wishing to mount or repair tears you should really learn how to make starch paste and create proper conservation like repairs see

                      As for mounting I don't recommend dry mounting photographs. I'm not going to go into detail about it at this time just please don't. Hinging or using acid-free photocorners is the best choice onto 4-ply 100% rag mat board (backing with a hinged mat). I think it's been mentioned elsewhere but it never hurts to say it again. Always use a mat between the photo and the glass when framing. If the photo gets wet and adheres to the glass it is difficult to get off. If the piece isn't being framed insert acid-free tissue between the photo and the window mat to protect the image and place in flat storage such as an acid-free box. Another way to protect the surface is to hinge another piece of mat board on top of the window but this will have to be removed if you decide to frame it in the future.

                      Again all of this goes back to the conservator's main goal of preservation before all else. If you spend a bit of extra time a little extra money to do it right now you won't be paying large sums in the future for conservation or digital restoration.

                      Ok I think that covers it. I'd encourage anyone interested to visit my website I have a question and answer section for different types of materials that maybe of interest. I will also try to take some of these questions and add them to the photographs section for others to reference.




                      • #12
                        Thanks for the quick reply. What is your opinion of a product produced by Neschen of Germany named Firmoplast? Is this any good or should it be avoided? It is suppost to be a "safe" tape for these type of repairs. Thanks again, Tom


                        • #13
                          You just sign on and we bombard you with questions. Well, as you can see we are an eager to sponge up info here. Glad you have patience with us. The links you gave should really answer alot of questions. Thanks for taking the time to really teach us a few things.


                          • #14
                            Tom I think you are referring to Filmoplast. I know all the archival catalogues sell it and it is a good product but I wouldn't use it on a valuable piece. The starch paste and Japanese paper method is so easy to do and easily removed and really in the long run it will be a lot cheaper as well.

                            I've have had to remove Filmoplast from pieces that have come into my studio and it isn't that easy to do and sometimes it will take paper fibers with it resulting in additional damage to the piece.

                            Just my thoughts.



                            • #15
                              No problem DJ it's been kind of fun

                              I've been needing to add some new questions to my own website so these questions have sparked some new ideas.

                              Not to mention it's always nice to let people know some of the basics and make them more aware of conservation. So many people are amazed how easy it is to damage things and how easy it is to avoid the damage in the first place just by doing one or two things differently.



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