Preserving Photographs | 5 Steps to Rescue Snapshots from Old Family Displays



Preserving Photographs:

5 Steps to Rescue Snapshots from Old Family Displays



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Recently I was asked for advice from a friend who had come across a forgotten example of what is today perhaps the most common occurrence of “tape on your photographs”—the family snapshot display (see photos above).



preserving photographs
This is definitely a job for a conservator!



Whether or not it’s wise for you to try and remove tape stuck to your photos depends on a host of factors involving both the tape and the type of photograph it’s adhered to. When in doubt, always consult a trained conservator, and for more information please see the list of additional resources at the bottom of this blog.

Today, however, we’re going to take a quick look at something you often can address yourself—preserving photographs taped onto homemade snapshot displays.





Step 1: Find Your Family Photo Displays



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My friend put this display of ORIGINAL snapshots together five years ago for his wife’s birthday, and then stored it away. He used double sided thin foam squares with adhesive on each side that he bought at an office supply store (definitely NOT archival, and click here to see tapes that ARE archival). As shown, a number of these snapshots have already been lost, and the rest still stuck to the posterboard will have a thin residue of adhesive left on them when they’re eventually removed.



This sort of photo display is common at birthdays (see photos above), graduations, anniversaries, family reunions, and a host of other celebratory occasions or important events, even funerals (see photo below), and are sometimes kept assembled for sentimental reasons.



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My sister’s kids made this snapshot display for our dad’s funeral. Unfortunately, the kids used original one-of-a-kind snapshots (instead of scanned copies) and masking tape (instead of mounting corners). It fell to me to get these images off the cardboard and back into albums.



The problem arises when the event is over, and we’re left with important photos and snapshots that were sometimes hastily adhered to cardboard or posterboard displays with doublestick tape, masking tape, even duct tape. They’re also frequently stored for years in attics or basements, where you’ll need to go find them.





Step 2: Remove the Tape (if Possible & Safe)



preserving photographs
When it comes to preserving photographs, doublestick tape is often a challenge. It may peel off plastic-backed modern snapshots fairly easily, but not older paper-based photographs. When it doubt, leave it in place, and follow the procedures for covering adhesive residue discussed below.




preserving photographs
Masking tape is often easier to remove if it was applied fairly recently, while older masking tape tends to “dry out” and is substantially more difficult to remove. Either way, it’s important to “cover up” any old adhesive residue left behind.



In the images above and below, the snapshot being used as an example has already been carefully removed from the cardboard display it was attached to, and placed face down on a clean, dry work surface. Exercise caution when removing your taped photographs from your display so as not to bend or tear them. 



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Note the “orientation” of the tape on the left. Pull it away from the photograph in the same direction in which it was applied (see red arrows).



In the right-hand image above, the tape is being pulled off the photograph in the direction matching its “orientation” by “peeling it back” rather than pulling it straight up (see the dotted red arrow at the top). The second piece of tape was also peeled off in the same direction it was applied (see the solid red arrow on the tape), all while securely holding the opposite edge of the snapshot with your free hand to provide some stability and leverage.

While not usually associated with preserving photographs, a regular hair dryer—set on low—can be used to gently warm the tape to make this step a bit easier.





Step 3: Address Any Adhesive Residue



  preserving photographs      preserving photographs



Once as much tape as possible has been removed from the snapshot, you will probably notice a sticky adhesive residue on the back of the photograph. To address this simply cut a piece of acid-free Archival Paper or Archival Thin Paper slightly smaller than the image in order to place it over the back of your snapshot (see photos above). Adding this thin acid-free backing will keep the photo from sticking to the scanner you’ll use in the next step, or to the pages of the photo album or to the interior of any enclosure or sleeve in which you may wish to place it when finished.



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Before placing the Archival Paper or Archival Thin Paper backing sheet, check for any important information that was written or printed on the back of the snapshot. In this case the light red Kodak stamp (see blue box) includes the date the image was printed: February, 1981 (see red arrow). This information can help you date the snapshot for future reference—and future generations—and is an important aspect of preserving photographs.





Step 4: Scanning 


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With its acid-free Archival Paper sheet in position—which is being held in place by the tape residue it’s covering—the snapshot on the left is ready to be scanned to create a digital file as a backup of the original, and to allow you to print additional copies or email to relatives.

In the image on the right, two snapshots were being scanned. The lower snapshot (the white rectangle) has it’s acid-free backing in place and stayed on the scanner platen when the top was opened after scanning. The upper snapshot does not have this backing, and the adhesive residue stuck it to the cover of the scanner. You’ll want to avoid this situation in your photo albums and enclosures.





Step 5: Archivally Store the Original



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Our snapshot with its acid-free backing is in the lower right of the left-hand photo, ready for safe archival storage.
(Please click on each image for more information.)



Once scanned, the snapshot is ready to be placed in a Print Page & album, or into an archival print storage kit (see photos above), both of which come highly recommended for preserving photographs. If creating an album, Print Pages will fit into any one of a number of different styles of archival binders (see photo below) to be safely stored and enjoyed for years to come.



preserving photographs
Our new website offers many different views of each of the various archival 3-ring binders that are available for creating personalized photo albums. (Please click on the image for more information.)



At the end of the day, preserving photographs taped to your family displays is well worth the effort. And should the need arise to assemble another homemade photo display in the future, you can safely use printouts of your scans so you won’t have to worry about putting your originals in harm’s way ever again.





preserving photographs



In closing, we hope you’ll call or email us here at Archival Methods with any additional question you may have on preserving photographs in your family archive. We also hope you’ll take a look at the following blogs and third-party websites for more information on tape & your photographs.


Please click here to see our blog on Conservators: Pros You Should Know

Please click here to see a response to Removing Tape from a Vintage Photograph from the Smithsonian Institution

Please click here to see a short piece on Sticky Tape Removal