Monday, November 5, 2012

Salvaging Family Photos

Part of the reason I have not been posting to my blog is because I live on Long Island, NY. On October 28, Hurricane Sandy hit my beloved island hard. I was not here at the time of the storm as I was delivering a paper at a conference in Baltimore; a much safer, saner place for me to be.

Prior to my departure for the conference my sister gave birth to my parents' first grandchild; a girl, Sofia. She is beautiful and she is living her first few days with us here rather than in my sister's house because of the storm. Sandy unleashed 58 inches of water into their basement. It would be unsound to bring their newborn home until issues of power, heat, and mold have been resolved. And so Sofie sleeps without a care in the room her mother grew up in surrounded by her parents, grandparent, pet bulldog, Aunt April, and friends; oblivious that this is not normal.

I have been lending a hand to a dear friend who was affected by the storm as well. He fared pretty well all considered; however, he did lose his car and some cherished family photos. That is where I come in. I am trying to save whatever pictures I can for him. We haven't really had a fight about it, although we have had some cross stares with furrowed brows. He says that this is just stuff that he lived these images he doesn't need to save them; but I am certain he says this out of frustration and being overwhelmed. I keep saying that you have to save them or else how will they know. How will Who Know What? How will your children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, ect. know of the love that brought them here, how will they know who you were if they have no objects, no tokens, no documentation of the lives that existed that brought you here.

I am not talking about saving snapshots of nothing. I am talking about saving photos from the 1800s, baby pictures, first Christmases, wedding photos, photos of souls long gone, moments of love... We know not the degree to which that love existed but for the people in the photos it was a moment they wanted to capture in their own time and somehow it remains. I have to try to save them.

In any case, if your photos have been water damaged, they can often be salvaged. Photos are made in water. If need be you can soak them apart. The best course of action is to remove loose dirt and debris by rinsing your photos in a basin of cold clear running water until the water runs clean. Do not run water directly on them as this may cause further damage to the already softened emulsions. Lay them flat to dry. Do not cover them at this point. Let them fully dry. If they curl up simply take them once they are fully dry and press them in your heaviest books. Here are some more in depth tips from Image Permanence Institute: 

As I have said, my house and family photos remained unharmed through this severe storm; thank God! This morning I woke to a bundle of old photo my father left on the kitchen counter for me before heading off to his job at the Long Island Power Authority. Among them was this photo; my Grandpa Edwin M. Earle Sr., his maternal Uncle Luman Losee, and grandpa's brother Allen Preston Earle circa 1945. 

Grandpa was a Navy man. Until this morning I had never seen this photo. I had never seen him so young. And only now I recall images of him with thick dark hair; like Sofie's. Since the moment I saw Sofie I have said that my Grandpa Earle (a.k.a. Poppy) would have loved those cheeks of hers. How will she know anything of him if I do not save this photo for her and fill her ears with stories of him and his ultra-sensitive crabby ways. How will they know?


  1. Great post...especially helpful for people affected by Sandy - going to make sure my dad knows about this. Hopefully we'll be able to salvage some of my grandmother's photos!

    1. If your dad needs some help with his photos I can try to help him out. Depending on the time period the photos were taken the process for salvaging them will vary. I can't stress enough that digitizing photos is the best way to save them from deterioration. Scan, scan, scan.