Rescuing a framed photograph

Do you have framed old photographs hanging on your walls? Many of us do, without realising how damaging framing can be. When we give the advice to frame copies of old photographs rather than the original images, we mainly do so because photographs react strongly to light and they will fade considerably over time. But a few weeks ago we were reminded of another reason to be wary of framing originals: they can stick to the glass of the frame.


When framed photographs come to us at the record office, we remove them from the frame and package them archivally instead. However, when we took this photograph out of its frame, it became apparent that part of it had stuck to the glass.

The area of the image that is stuck to the glass

Photographs used to be printed in a thin layer of gelatine and it is this gelatine that expands and gets sticky when moisture seeps in through the frame. The moist area then sticks to the glass and unfortunately becomes impossible to remove without causing considerable damage. The images below show the photograph once it was removed from the glass and the fragment that stayed behind ;

Once only the fragment of the image was left, with hardly any paper behind it, we were able to moisten it from behind and gently tease it off:

We then used a tiny amount of wheat starch paste adhesive to stick the fragment back in place. You can still see the outline of the fragment, as it slightly distorted when we removed it from the glass and will therefore no longer fit perfectly, but at least the whole image is there and the damage is not very noticeable.

So what should you do with those framed photographs hanging on your walls? Keep them out of as much light as possible, make sure they’re not hanging near a heat source (such as a radiator), don’t let moisture get anywhere near them, and maybe consider replacing them with a copy, so you can enjoy the image while the original is safely stored away.

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