The Archive Lady: Framing Photographs

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The Archive Lady: Framing Photographs

Judi from Tennessee sent in this question after reading the last installment of The Archive Lady: “I recently found this old family picture. I’d like to frame it (it is currently in an archival sleeve), but I am not sure what is needed to protect and preserve the photo!”

the archive lady - framing photographs
Photo from Judi in Tennessee

Many of us have family photographs that we would like to frame and hang on the wall or display on a shelf or table. Sharing photographs of our ancestors in our homes is very popular and one that we should not be afraid to do, if done in a proper archival manner.

As an archivist, I have seen first-hand the damage framing an original photograph can do. My professional advice to anyone wanting to frame original photographs is to refrain from doing so. When original photographs are framed and put on display they are susceptible to damage from several sources.

First and foremost, framed photographs can be damaged by the sunlight that comes in through windows, doors, etc. Exposure to sunlight will washout or lighten the image in the photograph. There are several photographs that have been donated to the Houston County (TN) Archives that are so light from sunlight exposure that it is difficult to see the actual image. Unless there are no windows, doors or any other source where sunlight can come through, it would be difficult to display photographs without the concern for sunlight damage.

Another hazard that faces our framed and displayed original photographs is accidents. Things that could happen to photographs as they hang on the wall or sit on the table could damage the original photograph. For instance, if the framed photograph is not secured to the wall correctly, it could eventually fall off and hit the floor. When this happens, there is a possibility that the glass could break and a shard of that glass could puncture or tear the photo. If the photo is displayed on a shelf or table, there are normal everyday events that could knock the photo off the shelf or table and again the glass could break and cause damage.

One of the most destructive hazards that could happen to framed, displayed photographs is fire. In 2001, my father-in-law experienced a house fire that burned his house to the ground and he lost everything. This event taught me the importance of not framing original photographs. He lost every original photograph that was framed and on the walls or displayed on shelves and tables. These photographs can never be replaced.

Another aspect of fires that is a hazard to the home owner when it comes to their photographs is that when the fire occurs and the homeowner is trying to get out of the house, they try to grab their photographs on the way out. My husband was an insurance adjuster for over 20 years. He worked many house fires and met with the homeowners to help them through the insurance claims process. He tells me that the #1 comment made by every homeowner who experienced a fire was “I lost all my photos; I didn’t have time to grab them off the walls and tables.”

the archive lady - framing photographs
Photo Display of High Resolution Photocopies of Originals, Owned by Melissa Barker

Other natural disasters such as flooding, tornados and earthquakes could effect and damage your framed original photographs.

So, what is the best way to frame or display photographs so that they can be enjoyed by anyone who enters the home? Make high quality photocopies of the original photographs and display the copies and archive the originals. Many of the photocopiers that we have today make excellent copies of original documents and photographs. In fact, the copies are sometimes as good as the original. If you do not have a copier of your own, there are businesses that will make high quality copies for you.

Taking this one step of displaying high quality photocopies of original photographs is a great way to preserve those originals.


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If you have a question about researching in archives or records preservation for The Archive Lady, send an email with your question to:

Melissa Barker - The Archive LadyMelissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation. 


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