My picture is stuck on the framing glass!
May 1, 2009 6:30 AM   Subscribe

How to I safely lift an old photograph stuck on a piece of glass?

It is a priceless black and white, framed under glass in a humid house for a long time, and when I try to lift it the image layer is sticking to the glass and pealing off the paper. Ironically, I was going to scan it behind the glass, but I opened my scanner, which I haven't used for a couple of months, and there was another photo adhered to that glass too! That's what one gets for having no A/C in the south!
posted by swlabr to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd get the scanner sorted and go that route. Scan the pic adhered to the scanner so you have that then remove it, then scan the other pic.
posted by zeoslap at 6:50 AM on May 1, 2009

I think that if I were in your position, I'd be doing several scans of the photo that's already stuck in the scanner, at assorted resolutions and colour settings.

Then I'd be inclined to put a wet facecloth over the back of the photo for half an hour, to get it well and truly wet and loosen its grip on the glass, then scrape it carefully off the scanner glass with the longest, straightest, sharpest blade I could find.

If that destroyed the photo in the scanner, well at least I'd have a scan of it and I'd know not to use that method on the priceless one, which I could in any case then scan through its own glass.

I'd also wait for advice from actual conservators before acting on this inclination.
posted by flabdablet at 6:51 AM on May 1, 2009

Buy a new scanner to scan the framed photo. Don't try to peel the photos off.

Find out what sort of photographic paper they were printed on, then go over to and ask for suggestions there.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:12 AM on May 1, 2009

Take the photo to a museum that has a good conservation department. If they don't have the setup required to save the photo, they probably know who can. Doing it yourself will only wreck the photo.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:49 AM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

If it's modern photographic paper, you could soak the whole thing (glass and paper) in a mild photo flo solution. Your best bet though (especially if it is "priceless" is to find, as stated above, a museum or a conservation framer who knows how to deal with the situation.
posted by availablelight at 7:58 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding Thorzdad -- call a decently sized museum, maybe your state historical society is a good pick, and tell them your problem. Conservators can give you step-by-step advice on this. Do call ahead, they usually have a lot to do and don't respond as well when you just jump on them. If they help you, consider a donation in thanks.

Here is a good piece on saving photos from flood damage (moisture damage would be similar, but since your photo has already dried, you may not get good results).

Another piece about removing photos stuck to glass.

Finally, if your local people are not that helpful, the Northeast Document Conservation Center might be able to help you. Here's a whitepaper from them on water-damanged photos, though it just says "contact a conservator" if the photo's stuck to the glass.

The museum world is currently a big expert on this topic, thanks to Katrina and Rita.

Finally, this is why it's recommended that framed photos be matted before enclosure. Putting photo emulsion surface in contact with glass always risks the destruction of the photo - photos are really delicate and the part the picture is embedded in is a separate film layer that transfers easily to other surfaces. So - especially with one-of-a-kind historic photos - always mount and matte your photos!
posted by Miko at 9:06 AM on May 1, 2009

Make that a link this time - Another piece.
posted by Miko at 9:07 AM on May 1, 2009

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