The house fire devastated the master bedroom but the homeowners weren’t so saddened about the furniture, linens and clothing. They cried over the ruined historic family photographs. Dating from the late 1880s to a just a few years ago, the entire wall-mounted collection was soot-covered, smokey and soaking wet. Happily, Paul Davis technicians knew exactly what to do.
“One of the things I’ve learned is that we never know what photographs and artwork mean the most to people who have experienced a disaster,” says Eric Hebert, Contents and Mitigation Estimator for Paul Davis. “We take our cues from what they tell us and apply a whole range of techniques to save these precious items, whether they are fine art, or the only remaining photograph of a grandfather who died in World War I.”
Technicians begin by putting on gloves, then carefully packing the photographs for travel without pulling, bending, stacking or touching the fragile emulsion side, which displays the image. Restoration begins as soon as the photos arrive at a Paul Davis service facility. There, Paul Davis team members may rinse photos in cool, clean water, removing dirt, debris and soot with soft brushes, wipes or specially treated sponges. They continue the process by drying the photos by air or by freeze-drying, never by blotting. Until the photos are completely dry, physical contact with the waterlogged emulsion layer can cause irreparable damage. Photos may also require de-odourizing on racks in an ozone chamber.
For delicate, very damaged photos that are of high sentimental value, Paul Davis often draws on its group of trusted art restoration experts. “We rely on the same people repeatedly for photo restoration because we’re very familiar with their capabilities and have used their services on many other restorations,” says Hebert, adding that Paul Davis works with insurance companies as well to assess value, costs and labour needed to restore these photos. “Often local vendors are capable, cost-effective and faster than bringing in people from outside the area.”
When precious photographs seem completely lost after a disaster, the experts at Paul Davis often perform seemingly impossible restorations. It’s all part of caring completely for people in their time of extraordinary need.