My husband Patrick’s grandparents’ wedding photo, taken in 1917, sat on the bookshelf with water damage. The damage got me thinking about photo restoration. Only a handful of heirloom photos have survived on Patrick’s family side, and those are in bad condition. I decided to do something about it.
“We are very passionate about permanence,” said Twyla Cecil, owner of Cecil’s House of Photography. (619-232-2426) “I can’t see taking an old picture that somebody has had for 100 years and giving them something that’ll only last 8 or 10 years. We do beautiful work with negatives and good paper so that people have something permanent. When we do a correction, it is done on the computer, but sitting next to our computer is what we call a negative recorder, and the image transfers to that and we make a negative. So the client always has a very permanent print and a very permanent negative.
“A lot of pictures have cigarette smoke on them,” Cecil continued, “and in the East, where they heat with coal and oil, the pictures can just be very dirty. Ninety percent of the time we are able to take the dirt off of the picture. If it is badly stained, the stains won’t come off, but the dirt will. I never tell anybody what I use because if I did, and they used it on something that it didn’t work on, they would be very unhappy with me.”
Cecil filled me in on some photography history. “Photography started in 1840. Daguerreotypes were first — images done on copper. Then copper became so expensive, they used a different kind of metal…. Tintypes were a little harder material, a metal, [usually iron or steel]. They didn’t damage, they would put a little color on them, and they were never any bigger than 7 by 9 inches. We have one on display from about 1850. A tintype is not bright like a photograph; they are always kind of dark. That doesn’t mean they are faded or changed; that is the way they were from the beginning. We can take them and make them look like a wonderful black-and-white photograph.”
Cecil gave some tips on keeping heirlooms safe. “Anything that is worth keeping, we think is worth framing. We are very careful about what surrounds the picture; the glass never lays on it. There is always a mat, or these new little strips of plastic that fit back under the edge of the frame that keeps the glass off. Everything is archival. Our pictures you could put anywhere. Clients ask, ‘You can’t leave those pictures in the window more than just a week or so, can you?’ Well, some of them have been in the windows for years.”
Cecil’s doesn’t quote prices over the phone, but they give free consultations and a written estimate at their Little Italy store.
“I do the photo restoration myself,” explained Claire Santos-Daigle, owner of Photos Made Perfect. (619-397-7600) “Depending on how bad the photograph is, that image can cost anywhere from $40 to $300. You can pretty much restore anything. I have been doing this since 1998 and have only refused five pictures in that time period. They were small, too vague, faded to the point of no return, or the filth was embedded throughout the whole picture...the picture had a lot of detail in it, and it would end up being too much money to restore the one picture....
“When people bring pictures that have been wet in a flood, the picture is now stuck to the glass. I try to break the glass off, or I scan it right through the glass. Other people might draw the missing parts in, or they might crop it so that the missing part is cropped out. I collect old photographs. I have a large archive of them, and I look and see if I can replace an object of the same time period. Let’s say the hands are missing, I look for a pair of hands in the same position and I cut and paste them into that photograph. This way the photographic integrity remains in the photograph.
“I am devoted to the genealogy community,” continued Santos-Daigle. “A lot of pictures need special attention in order for genealogists to use them in their historical books.
“Scrapbookers also will come to me with pictures in a convex glass, and they can’t scrapbook that. Or they have no desire to put that up in their house because it doesn’t fit their decor or it is a pretty ugly ancestor. They have me photograph it, sometimes I scan it, and then I reduce it to an 8˝ x 10˝ to fit into a scrapbook.”