Historical society gives workshop on photo restoration

By Kevin Boozer kboozer@civitasmedia.com

February 2, 2014

WINNSBORO — A picture might be worth a thousand words or a harbinger of a thousand memories.

Composition, subject matter and lighting are elements that make a photograph memorable but according to Warren Driggers, it takes great care to make sure photos last as time passes.

A hobbyist photographer who grew into a businessman with over 30 years experience restoring photographs, Driggers spoke to members of the Fairfield County Historical Society recently to provide tips for not only restoring old photographs but for archiving and displaying them.

Driggers said that often photographs are being inherited now by children who are learning to appreciate them but that at times the photos will have fallen into disrepair.

Dust, dirt, smoke and particles in the air in kitchens or from wood burning stoves also can wreak havoc on photos over time.

Photographs stuck to glass are another problem he encounters. To prevent this, he recommends people have photos professionally mounted and that when they clean photo frames they never spray cleaner directly onto the glass. Instead Spray a cloth and wipe the glass. Doing so prevents micro particles from going through the glass and affecting the print.

Images found in attics or garage storage face problems related to heat and humidity. Acid of paper eats into images over time. Using professional grade frames can help with that, according to Driggers.

Photography tips

He also offers the following tips to photo historians, both professional and amateur:

• Avoid fingerprints and oil on photographs.

• Hold photos either underneath or by their edges. Gently rub with microfiber cloth to clean a print.

• Think about an area to hang prints that will receive less ultraviolet light exposure. Strong light causes photos to fade.

• Avoid taping photographs. However, if one places tape on a photograph, tape on the back. If a photo is torn, have a processional repair it in its current state or tape it on the back with archival tape.

• Ink and markers can bleed through from the back of photos and do long term damage over decades. Solutions: dry mount the print on acid free art board and then write on the back of the art board.

• Make sure no glass touches the photo when matting a photo. Paper matting can be cheaply replaced but photos are one of a kind.

Providing “memory insurance”

“Photos are memory insurance,” Driggers said.

Store photos for safekeeping and display in acid free archival storage box in a spare bedroom or area like that in home.

According to Driggers, that is the safest long term storage option that is feasible for the average person.

Storage of electronic files presents another challenge. Should one use an external computer hard drive? Hard drives will fail. Burning to a CD/DVD is a good backup but Diggers reminds that they can be scratched.

“Will that technology be common in 10 years?” he asked. “This storage issue is a real dilemma for photographers and historians.”

Photo paper also has its issues. In the late 1990s, consumer grade paper projected an inner stability of 12 years. Now, he said, what you get in a chain store or pharmacy photo has a stability of seven years. As for inkjet printers, he said the paper they use lasts six months to two years tops before it begins to fade.

For him, insuring people’s memories is a labor of love. Driggers worked in IT on mainframe computers and worked for a bank, but after the birth of his first child, he was bitten with the photography bug. He started off part-time and then he and his wife ventured into the photography business full-time in 1979. He also did photo restorations.

Driggers can do evaluations of photos people bring in and said that there are few cases that he has not been able to provide at least some assistance with. Typical restoration problems include stains, cracks, missing parts, blurs, all of which can be salvaged. He also can restore faded painting to their original colors.

Though he once used air brushes, dyes, pencils and such in a dark room to hand color classic black and white photos, he now also uses computer software. An advantage to computerized work is he can experiment and then go back and do various versions rather than have to totally redo an entire restoration process.

He also can place old print images onto fabric for curtains, turn “selfies” into paintings, print images to aluminum, produce cell phone art and work to restore tin types from as early as the 1850s.

He recommends photographers and historians shoot high resolution photographs since low resolution files are not suitable for use as prints. Driggers also says to use software to compress copies of files and crop using a computer, not a camera. Photo collages, gallery wraps and traditional photo framing are all ways he encourages creativity to occupy blank walls and fill voids.

“Heirloom portraits need to be passed on to future generations,” he said. “Sooner or later there comes a time when they value them and want them.”