Jumbled Old Photos

Source: Creative Commons

If you have ever owned a camera, then you most likely possess numerous boxes and drawers filled with family photographs and original negatives. Despite your good intentions, they continue to languish in disorganized heaps rather than being artfully displayed in picture frames or creatively designed in scrapbooks.

Digital photos, too, can be reduced to mere clutter – they fill memory cards, slow down hard drives and get dumped into unnamed desktop folders.

What is the solution? How can you move from simply being the caretaker of those buried photos to being the curator of a display that can be enjoyed by all of your family and friends?

  1. Start Small
    Even though this may seem obvious, tackle one stack at a time to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Recognize that looking at photos is an inherently slow process because memories are associated with each one. It is natural to stop and reflect for several moments before moving on to the next photo. Thus, you might consider videotaping the process so you can verbally and visually document the entire memory, rather than just labeling a name, place and date. This will make it much easier to expand on that particular memory and group of photos should you later decide to write your personal history or memoir.
  2. Gather Appropriate Supplies
    When working with actual prints, always be sure to use archival, acid-free supplies such as pens, pencils (preferably no.4 or no.6), papers, photo albums and storage boxes. Not so long ago, it was common practice to simply write information on the back of a picture with whatever writing utensil happened to be within reach. However, the pressure of writing with the pen often causes an embossed version of the lettering on the front of the photo. Most people have also seen the detrimental affects of placing photos in old-fashioned cellophane-and-glue photo albums; the glue dries out, causing photos to fall out of the album (the glue itself sometimes damages the pictures) and the pages become brittle and yellowed. Archival supplies can be purchased at most craft and hobby stores, as well as online at specialty sites such as www.archivalmethods.com and www.gaylord.com.
  3. Scan
    If at all possible, take the time to scan each page of the old album before gently removing the pictures. This will not only safeguard the actual photos, but also preserve an image of the original handwriting and honor the time and effort it took a loved one to create the finished, albeit now defunct, heirloom. It’s also important to scan each of your loose photos from that heap in your drawer. This will digitize the images so that you can easily (and safely) store, share, and create prints from them. If you don’t own a flatbed scanner, a great alternative is a small mobile scanner (check out those offered at www.flip-pal.com).
  4. Photo Restoration
    What can you do if a photo is cracked, the corner torn, or the color has faded? Thanks to today’s technology, you can try your hand at photo restoration with your own photo editing software. Most photo processing locations (including your local pharmacy chains and big box stores) also offer these types of minor restoration services.  But what happens if your photos have experienced water damage? Contrary to popular belief, many of these photos can be salvaged. If you want to tackle the process on your own, check out the tips at http://www.scanmyphotos.com/blog/water-damage-dont-panic. You can also hire a qualified photo conservation professional.
  5. Organize
    Once your photos have been scanned, label them with as much detail as possible, and group all photos of a particular event in one folder (also appropriately labeled by event and date, if known). This should be done with both the physical pictures (placing them in acid-free albums or photo storage boxes) and the digitized versions on your computer’s desktop. Don’t forget to back up your pictures by saving them onto flash/thumb drives and/or uploading the photos to online photo storage sites such as www.smugmug.com or www.flickr.com.
  6. Create and Share
    This is the fun part! After all of your hard work sorting, scanning, labeling, and preserving your photos, now you can get creative and produce tangible and/or virtual albums to share with family and friends. Online photo sites such as www.snapfish.com enable users to create customized photo books, calendars, gift cards and more. If you would like to create a photo book that includes large amounts of accompanying text, consider using a print-on-demand company such as www.blurb.com.  Or, for those who embrace the Internet, www.pinterest.com can serve as a portal for family members to store and exchange photos, stories, and genealogical research.

Now that you have a plan of attack in place, go grab a handful of photos. Don’t expect to get through your entire collection in one day, but if you pace yourself and whittle away at it a little bit each week, you will soon have an empty drawer. Most importantly, have fun and enjoy the memories!

Have additional photo preservation tips to share? Please share them in the comments section.