Kienow Family History and Heritage

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Preserving Photos

Preserving Family Photographs

Most of us have photos tucked away somewhere, I know we do. Some are in albums, some are in boxes, some are yet to be developed. One of the boxes we had got left in an area that wasn't completely weatherproof, ruining most of the photographs, and damaging many of the negatives. Since I have a scanner for my computer that has an attachment for negatives and slides, I have begun to scan each strip of negatives into my computer, then create a proof page to help me identify the roll of film. You don't need a scanner, or even a computer for this project - the essential element for this project is to make sure the photos your family has are properly stored and identified for future generations.

I'm going to leave the topic of preserving photos and proper storage materials for another day, but I will give you some basics.

  • Unless the album is damaging your photographs, don't dismantle the albums. The arrangement of the photos is just as important as the individual photos. It puts together the stories, and helps you identify people, places and events. If you want to pass on some of the photographs to other family members, have copies made of the photos, or even copies of the entire page.
  • In many cases, the photograph is the original. With early photographic methods, the image was made directly on the final print. If the image is showing signs of deterioration, have a copy made. Current technologies can also enhance the image quality, improving brightness, contrast, color balance and sharpness. Scratches and imperfections can also be removed. Use your copies for viewing and displaying, protecting the original in a cool, dry, dark place. If you have the negative for the photo, have new prints made from it, storing the negative in a cool, dry, dark place. In either case, have copies made that are as true to the original as possible. If you want to manipulate the image - adding color to a black and white photograph, removing or adding people or objects from the picture - feel free to do so, but identify the image as such, maybe even display it with the originals that were used to make the composite.

Always treat your photographs with care - use clean hands, remove potentially damaging materials (especially food) from the work area, handle photographs and negatives only by the edges, and be organized.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's really get started.

  1. Gather the photographs you'll be working with
  2. Set aside time with other family members to go through the photographs
  3. Select the photographs you'll identify - some may be duplicates or retakes of the same subject
  4. Identify as much as you can about the photograph - who took it (if it is from a professional photographer, include their name, the name of the studio, and where it was located), when it was taken, where it was taken, the subject of the photograph, and why it was taken
  5. If you can, include information about the camera used to take the photograph, or at least some information about the type of photograph - is it a Polaroid, a black & white print from a negative, a color print from a negative, print from a color slide, or a color slide?
  6. After the general information about the photograph is recorded (and you have a way to match this with the photograph later - don't write this information on the photograph, use a separate sheet of paper), look at the details of the subject - what clothes are they wearing? What jewelry are they wearing? What other things were included in the picture? What's in the background?
  7. Now that you've looked at the individual photograph, what photos were taken before and after? Look for a sequence of events or theme. Begin to talk about and write down what you remember about that time, if you were there. If you weren't there, try to find someone who was and talk to them about that event. Record any memories you may have gotten from previously talking to someone who was there.
  8. Be sure to note the sources of all information you record about the photograph
  9. You may want to create a timeline of photographs, noting significant times with photographs. Another type of project is to select an image to represent a time - what would best capture the essence of that event/day/week/month/year/decade?
  10. Finally, see what other documents record the events in the photographs - wedding invitations, birthday cards, birth certificates, enlistment records, programs, letters, postcards, newspaper clippings (photocopy these - they contain chemicals that will damage photographs), yearbooks, or announcements. Also, does anyone have any of the items in the photographs?

Along with the new album or journal you have started, you will also be rewarded by the process - photographs were taken to be shared later, and you have done just that. Remember to continue to take photographs and then to share them with someone else. You may even be surprised how your perspective changes with time (your memory certainly does!). Reflect on how that photograph of that event fits into your life now. Then write it down!


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Last modified on 2021/7/5 by skenow

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