Preserve your photographs

History Help Line is brought to you by the Center for Michigan Jewish Heritage, a collaboration between the Rabbi Leo M. Franklin Archives of Temple Beth El and the Leonard N. Simons Jewish Community Archives of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.

This month we are offering some preservation tips to help you maintain your family archives. Family photographs capture treasured memories, but they are often at high risk of being damaged. With these three helpful tricks, you can help extend the life of your most precious pictures.

Never Display Original Photographs.

A lot of us are guilty of this, but always display a copy of your photo. Over time, light will damage the photograph, fading the image. This also keeps the original photograph safe from physical damage like water damage, dust and scratches. Use a scanner to make a copy of the original, then store the original in an archival, acid-free folder.

Digital copies are also a good option to make a backup of your photo, which adds an additional level of safety. It also makes it easier to share photographs with friends and families through social media!

No Tape, Ever!

Never use tape on a photograph, ever! This is a major preservation concern and only gets worse the longer the tape is stuck to the photo. When stuck to the emulsion (or the side of the photograph with the image, the adhesive can destroy the image. Over time, the effects can worsen and make it impossible to remove the tape without permanently destroying the picture.

A photograph with deteriorating tape on the emulsion.

If you are storing your photographs in an album, we also recommend using mounting photo corners.

Photo corners like these can safely mount your photos to a scrapbook or other surface.

Pencils, not Pens.

While pen ink might stand out more to the eye, it might be doing more harm than good to a photograph. Some inks can be acidic and eat through the chemical bond between the photographic image and the paper it’s printed on, while others might bleed and leave a dark spot on the photo. Labeling with a pencil on the back of the photo is best, and it can easily be erased if you happen to make a mistake!

But what should you write on the back of a photo? Any relevant information for the photograph! The names of people in the photograph are always useful as is the date and location.

It’s often said that pictures are worth a thousand words, but a damaged photograph will say far less. Help us to keep our community’s cultural memory in high fidelity by following these preservation tips. And, if you are considering finding a new home for any of your photographs, don’t take them to the dump! Contact us to see if your photos will fit with our collections policies. Check us out at our website and look at our collections here to see some photographs we have saved, or get in touch with us through our Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Tic Tok. With your help, we can all preserve our history!