General Question

rangerr's avatar

How can you repair a really old picture?

Asked by rangerr (15744points) April 17th, 2010

My grandmother gave me a picture of my great-great-great grandparents I think that’s the right amount of greats today.

I’m not sure how old the picture actually is if someone could guess for me, that’d be cool too because Grandma just said “Old”.

Anyway. Here’s the picture
I’m not too worried about the smaller cracks, just that big one that goes down the entire picture.. is there a way that can be fixed?

I plan on framing it, but I’m still worried it’s going to get worse.

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23 Answers

DarkScribe's avatar

Your link is not working. Most images that are fairly intact can be repaired.

dpworkin's avatar

Yes I believe there are still conservation studios that deal with photography. You have to watch out for the fraudulent ones which merely make an internegative and produce a copy which they then claim have been “fixed”.

_Jade_'s avatar

I can’t see the picture, but I have repaired some pretty bad ones by simply using the fix flaw feature in Print Shop. It can be very tedious but I have been satisfied with the outcome most of the time.

dpworkin's avatar

@Jade This is an heirloom original photograph. The OP doesn’t want to fix the image, but to stabilize the actual photograph.

rangerr's avatar

Oh, crap. Sorry.

DP is right, though. I’m not a big fan of photoshopping.. especially since this is such a personal picture to my family. I want the original on my wall.. not a copy.

tranquilsea's avatar

@dpworkin Sometimes it is better to work on a copy of the damaged image rather than the image itself. You can end up with a fully restored copy without risking further damage to photo.

I have a pile of old pictures that I am restoring exactly that way.

tranquilsea's avatar

I would scan that picture and use a programme like Photoshop, or something like it, and clean it up. Save the picture to a disk/flash stick etc. and get a new one printed out.

I have had really good experience with this with my own restorations.

netgrrl's avatar

My 75 year old aunt, bless het heart, learned how to use a scanner & sent me a bunch of old photos scanned. I was able to clean up a lot of the damage.

If it were me, I’d probably frame it as is so that there’s no further damage, but preserve a digital copy for posterity.

MorenoMelissa1's avatar

You could try scanning the picture onto the computer, then use a really good photo software to repair it. Then you can print that and frame it. It’s just an idea.

dpworkin's avatar

I know! Use your phone to take a picture of the old one, then upload it to your computer, and throw away the stinky old busted old one! I should have thought of that before.

rangerr's avatar

@dpworkin Of course! I’ll just use the one I uploaded today. I can even put it on a digital frame so it’s not so old.

dpworkin's avatar

Cool! Maybe you can Photoshop it so it looks like it’s in color instead of that boring black and white!

janbb's avatar

I don’t think anyone’s suggested yet you scan it, upload it to Photoshop and then use the photoshopped image instead. :-)

Seriously, how about searching the internet for photograph preservers or restorers?

jaytkay's avatar

I used to run a commercial black-and-white darkroom, specializing in museum-quality prints from old photos. I was paid to handle irreplaceable photos, which were priceless for either historical or sentimental reason.

DO NOT make repairs to the original. You can only lose information.

DO NOT hang the original on your wall. Absolutely not. Its condition can only get worse.

DO make a high quality copy, meaning indistinguishable from the original once. A retoucher can fix that big crack ON THE COPY.

DO store the original in acid free paper, an art supply store will probably sell you single sheets.

DO store the original between sheets of sturdy matte board (the same kind used in framing) so it will not be accidentally bent.

dpworkin's avatar

@jaytkay I agree with your advice except for the fact that the OP wishes to display the original heirloom, not a copy. Even though an institution might prefer not to display something rare and irreplaceable, this is a matter of a family heirloom, and only the real thing fits the bill.

For that reason, I suggest a paper conservator, rather than a photographic restorer, to stabilize the original paper, and then to have the piece matted and framed properly to protect the emulsion. It’s a compromise, but it’s not a terrible compromise.

jaytkay's avatar

It is a terrible compromise if the photo disappears. The only stabilization that can be done is washing the print, and that risks new contamination and with that crack the print could easily tear in half. And actually, it’s probably very clean anyway, or it would be discolored, and/or large parts of the image would have silvered out.

It’s only an heirloom because it has survived. If you want to pass it to future generations, store it away safely.

Regarding the age of the photograph – my guess is between 1880s or 1890s.
Older pictures usually have metal or cardstock backs, and they are usually small. This was probably a framed print for the wall. I think the outfits are drawn, or at least heavily retouched, and that practice faded away after the 1890s.

jerv's avatar

Such are the flaws of paper. There isn’t really anything that can be done to restore damaged originals since much of the damage is irreversible chemical reactions. It’s kind of like taking a pile of ash and trying to turn it into wood, or turn a pickle into a cucumber.

The only real solution is to store it in a vacuum, since exposure to oxygen and ambient humidity will cause damage. Unfortunately, that is only good for preventing more damage; it won’t restore what has already been done.

simpleD's avatar

Check with your local librarian, art museum, or university (libraries and art departments) to recommendation a reputable conservator.

arpinum's avatar

I’ve spoken to my local art museum about this before. As @jaytkay said, you will do damage by hanging it on the wall. Specifically, exposing a photo to light will cause degradation. I’ve seen original Ansel Adams prints, and they are only exposed to light for at most a couple weeks a year in order to lower degradation. You can get a copy done professionally that will retain its character very well.
If you want future generations to enjoy this photo it cannot be constantly displayed.

deni's avatar

when i worked at ritz camera, we fixed some really bad pictures. i cant see the link you posted but if its just one big tear and there isn’t anything really significant missing from the picture, they could probably do it in a couple weeks. it cost 50 bucks when i worked there but it may have changed.

DarkScribe's avatar

If you want the original repaired that will normally entail treating it with Magnesium Bi-Carbonate to stabilise the paper, mounting it on card very carefully to align the tear and touching it up with an artist’s brush and India ink or dyes. This is how they handled restoration of originals at the Australian War Museum back in the sixties and seventies. In the seventies I was dating a girl who worked there as a archive restorer for WW1 and Boer War photographs. Often they would photograph the original and work on the new print – but on occasion they would stay with the original – but never display it. It was always a copy on display.

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