Photographs provide a visual window into the past. They serve to document the people and places that shaped history, as well as embody a medium for creativity and social change.
Unfortunately, preserving photographs can be difficult for archivists. Sometimes we may discover flawless photos that were stored in optimal conditions and left untouched for decades. More often, photographs may be in state of deterioration from inappropriate storage and handling, water damage, or mold accumulation. These photographs require professional assistance from qualified conservators to stabilize and help preserve the images for future generations.
A year ago the archives staff discovered photographs that were especially in need of preservation treatment. Two undated and uncaptioned images of Luther Gulick and founding members of the Bureau of Municipal Research (later Institute of Public Administration) were partially adhered to glass from past water damage. One photograph also contained trace elements of inactive mold, usually represented by dark powdery spots on paper-based materials.
Another group image measuring about 8 x 26 inches of Gulick and BMR founders was found in three separate pieces and contained several tears. The panoramic photograph was fragile to the touch and conservation work was needed in order to stabilize the image.
Baruch archives sought help from conservators at The Better Image. The conservators successfully stabilized the panoramic photograph through a number of treatments:
- The surface was cleaned with solvents on cotton swabs.
- The photograph was placed in a humidification chamber and flattened between polyester sheets.
- Tears on the image were mended with wheat starch paste and Japanese tissue paper.
- The print was mounted on an archival mount for easy access.
- Areas of loss were painted using watercolors.
In order to remove the two photographs that were adhered to glass, the conservators cleaned the photos to remove any mold that on the emulsion, placed them in a local humidification chamber and carefully removed the glass. Portions of the image were also painted to fill in the lost emulsion.
We also received digital copies of these two images previously adhered to glass. One can see the attention to detail in replacing the structures lost to water damage on the digital copies below.
The careful work on these three photographs took several months in order to ensure that the conservation treatments did not do any further damage to the images. Now archivists and researchers can handle the panoramic image with ease and Gulick and his associates can be preserved for generations.