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Flood damaged photos...Good advice??????

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  • Flood damaged photos...Good advice??????

    Hi Everyone,

    As I am sure you may have heard, many parts of Australia are currently under water. There is a message being circulated on Facebook advising people with flood damaged photos to immerse them in clean, fresh water and keep them wet until they can have them copied at a local art reproduction house (who has offered to clean and copy them for free). This worries me that this generalised advice may further damage some emulsions, especially if people try to rub the mud and debris off sensitive images, or if only a potion of the image was effected by water. What are your thoughts?

  • #2
    Re: Flood damaged photos...Good advice??????

    G'day Carol, I live up in Brisbane so you have my absolute sympathy if you have been inundated, my house was not flooded (lucky me I live on a hill) but I'm still very much affected, everyone is- Brisbane is effectively a disaster zone, it's shocking.
    I haven't seen the advice you are refering to on Facebook...yet, so I can't really comment on it. Can you possibly provide a link or quote it in this thread?
    Here is some advice I have used myself and have collected, read consistently from many photographic, conservator, archivist etc sources online and offline.
    If the photos have been submerged in floodwater the dirty contaminated water will certainly cause much permanent damage to them and they will be near impossible to clean at all if they are allowed to dry out without first being seperated away from each other, removed from frames and photo albums and carefully washed/cleaned and dried.
    If your photos (also negatives and slides)are already wet then immersing them in a plastic tray filled cool, clean tapwater should not do further harm, so long as you handle them as little and carefully as possible.
    Avoid using food preperation areas for working with floodwater contaminated photos- anything tainted with floodwater is a health risk whilst it is still wet.
    I'd suggest getting three plastic containers like cat litter trays or similar that will hold water and the photos will lay flat in with some room to spare. You may also want to have roll/s of plain paper towel and/or plain butcher paper. Don't use coloured, dyed, printed or newspaper to lay out the cleaned photos to dry on, also a roll of waxed paper would be helpful as interleaving if you need to stack and store the photos whilst they are still wet. Soft, clean makeup sponges and brushes, sable artists brushes or similar very soft hair brushes to very gently clean off debris that won't rinse straight off in the water. You may want to string up some clothesline etc indoors and a supply of pvc/vinyl coated paperclips to initially drain off excess water from the photos before you lay them out on the paper towel to dry completely. You will need to have sufficient space on benches, tables etc in a cool, dry, well ventillated room to lay the cleaned photos out on to completely dry undisturbed for a couple of days, or even better- a room with airconditioning set to a reasonably cool/dry(dehumidify) setting would be ideal.

    As for cleaning, it is extremely important to act before the photographs have had a chance to dry or grow mold. If this is allowed to happen, the chances of salvaging the photographs are greatly reduced. If you can't do this straight away and a thorough cleaning and drying of photos will have to be put off; the best course of action would be to remove any loose dirt and debris by rinsing your photos in your first container of cold clear running water until the water overflow runs clean. Do not hose or run water directly on them as this may cause further damage to the already softened photographic emulsions. Carefully stack the rinsed photos interleaved with sheets of waxed paper and place them in a Ziploc or similar sealable plastic bag. You can actually store them safely this way in the freezer (or fridge at least) for a while untill you have the time and resources to attend to them properly yourself or get them someone experienced at salvage and restoration.



    • #3
      Re: Flood damaged photos...Good advice??????

      To clean and dry photos...
      Place your first container under a running cold tap till it fills and keep the water running as I mentioned in my first post, fill a second container(and a third if there is alot of sludge) and keep it handy, carefully place your photos into the container with the tap gently running, work in small batches if you have a few photos to do or they are clinging/stuck together or in albums- you will need to remove them from these if you can. leave them to sit and loosen for a short time if they are stuck to each other or a photoframe etc. Be so very careful seperating them, do this in the water and do not force them if you can help it. Use a soft brush very gently brush off any debris that doesn't passively rinse off- other than this avoid touching the image side of the photos whilst they are wet. carefully move each at a time to the second container to check and possible further gentle clean with a brush then place in the third container of water.
      When all done hang the photos with coated paperclips from the line you strung up to drip off excess water for an hour or two then lay each photo seperately face up on top of papert towel placed on a flat surface indoors where they can be left undisturbed for a couple of days to dry completely.
      Some curling my occur, you may need to interleave and cover with plain paper and press them under a flat heavy weight- such as a phonebook for another couple days.
      This is all I can think of for the moment other than strongly recommending you get them digitized- scanned or photographed as a backup and for restoration.
      If I can be of any further help at all please don't hesitate to ask me and I will do what I can- same goes for anyone else especially if you live local to me.
      Take care.


      • #4
        Re: Flood damaged photos...Good advice??????

        Hi Littlecoo, No, fortunately I am safe and dry in Melbourne.

        Thank you for your response.

        I work as a restorer here and was concerned about the generalised nature of the advice given on Facebook. The advice you have provided is concise and very helpful. I just had visions of people placing all of their images in water, regardless of whether they were printed on photographic emulsion or giclee prints, then rubbing mud away which could further destroy the emulsion. I also worry that of people have fibre based images or images mounted on card which have already dried out after the floods and are then placed back in water and soaked, it could do further damage.

        Flood damage could range from images covered in mud to those which have become wet but are otherwise clean.

        I guess we just have to hope that people use common sense and realise that the solution for one image may not be the same as for another.


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