History Retouched: Preserving A Handmade Scrapbook

After years of storage in a basement followed by some years in a garage, an old photo album our client inhereted had fallen into disrepair. “The pictures were in disarray and I was devastated. I was just so sorry I didn’t take the proper care,” our client shared. The photographs of her mother, father, and young brother were taken in Virginia between 1935 and 1942. While in storage, they had become discolored and distorted from age and exposure to moisture and temperature fluctuations. Motivated by a desire to restore the photographs and share them with her family, our client brought the album to The Conservation Center.

The small album featured 62 black and white photographs attached to the album pages. The photographs exhibited severe deformations where they had been glued to the pages, and the luster in these areas was dull and compromised. There were also select stains on the photographs from moisture exposure, as well as age-related discoloration throughout.

Three of the photographs were loose within the pages of the album, and the book itself had select loose fragments throughout. Two of the three loose photographs exhibited severe creases, handling dents, and losses in the emulsion layer. Unfortunately, when losses in the emulsion layer of photographs occur, it can be difficult to offer a successful treatment for the original works. Fortunately, in these cases The Center’s Digital Conservation Department is oftentimes able to step in and assist through high resolution scans, retouching, and archival reprinting.


The Center’s client services team met with our client on several occasions to discuss treatment options for the photographs. To ensure our clients proceed with the best treatment option for their collections, our staff is always happy to meet with them to explain and explore various techniques. After several conversations, our client elected to move forward with digital reproduction options for 38 of the photographs.  

Our conservator began the project by carefully removing the chosen photographs from the album pages. Due to the extent of the damage and deterioration of the album itself, our Paper Conservator determined treatment of the actual album and pages within it was not possible. Instead, our Digital Conservator focused on preserving the photographs themselves.

The Center’s Digital Conservator completed high-resolution scans of each photograph. She then digitally retouched the images, and output each photograph to an archival print. In addition to receiving retouched and archival prints of each photograph, our client also requested two CD’s of the images be created so she could share digital versions of the retouched photographs with her brothers and other family members.

Our client was so pleased with the outcome of the images that she was inspired to use the photographs for a family history project. “I want to find this place in Virginia where my parents once worked for this family and just connect,” she explained. Our client recognizes some of the family members in the photographs, while others remain strangers to her. She hopes to look for clues in the photographs to find the place where these were taken and learn more about who they are and their lives years ago in Virginia. “My mother took the time to make a photo album of this experience, so it must have been important to her.”

We were honored to have helped our client revive a small portion of her family’s history, and look forward to the future connections and discoveries that the project has inspired her to make.