Many of the photos had been stored in stacks. This was both good and bad. Since they were stacked, the water didn’t penetrate each photo and this helped preserve them, but it also meant they were stuck together. I didn’t try to pull them apart. That would have destroyed the image. Instead, I soaked them in my clean water until they came unstuck, usually less than an hour.
Most of the photos recovered well. But some of the recovered photos had a very interesting appearance, a red and yellow border, because those portions were exposed to water for a long time. Considering what they had been through, it was a wonder that there wasn’t more damage.
I learned that Polaroid photos may be washed but should not be soaked. They are made of two layers of plastic with some special chemicals sandwiched between them. These chemicals absorbed water to make a thick jelly. I had to peel apart the layers, wash away the chemicals, and glue the top layer to acid free paper with acid free glue. Fortunately, there were only a few of them.
The Return Visit
Even weeks later, Kelli’s house was in chaos. The house had electricity and a new furnace. All the dry wall had to be replaced. The washing machine and dryer were damaged beyond repair. There was furniture stacked in her yard, covered with tarps, along with a sign warning scavengers that “This is not junk.”
I knew it would be months before things returned to “normal”, so I didn’t hurry to return the salvaged photos. When I did return them, the family was very glad that I had been able to save their photos. I was pleased that what I had read worked so well. I did receive a reward for my services. The family brought from the freezer some more photos, all carefully frozen and ready for recovery.
The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC)
Library of Congress
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