Hurricane Sandy destroyed billions of dollars in property when it hit New York and New Jersey late last month. It also claimed memories, damaging or destroying thousands of family photographs.
But researchers at the University of Delaware (UD) say there is hope for reclaiming some of those photos that, at first glance, appear damaged beyond repair. Debra Hess Norris, professor and chair of the Department of Art Conservation at UD, says whatever you do, don't throw them away.
Norris, who is an expert on photograph preservation, and her colleagues and students at UD are triaging to provide the public with advice and resources for salvaging storm-damaged photographs. You can take advantage of their expertise by emailing your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Save My Photograph.” The UD team will provide recommendations for treatment, as well as contact information for professional conservators if requested.
Providing some hope
“It’s about giving people who have had to deal with so much some hope and guidance for saving photographs that are precious to them,” Norris said. “In many cases, water-damaged photographs can be saved.”
Norris offers this advice:
- Don’t dispose of your photographs even if they have dirt on them or have become distorted from being in water.
- Allow the photographs to air dry. Place them on screens or paper towels to allow the air to circulate around them. Do not use a hair drier or other direct source of heat, as this can lead to further damage.
- If photographs are in plastic sleeves, remove them from the sleeves to dry.
- If the photographs are stuck together, allow them to air dry. Conservators can later do their best to disassociate them while minimizing damage.
- Document everything -- snap a photograph of the damaged photos with your cell phone or other camera.
UD’s Department of Art Conservation has trained some of the U.S.' top photo restoration experts. The program’s alumni work in museums and private practice throughout the world.