A Cleaning Experiment. A Shocking Inscription.


Before cleaning.

After cleaning.

After cleaning.

This is a large format photobooth photo, before and after cleaning. The process was very unsophisticated (a cotton bud lightly moistened with cold water, used to gently wipe away any residue). It is usually a very safe option, though I knew it was risky on older photos. The image is improved in some ways, worse in others. I wasn’t expecting the emulsion to come away. Whenever I have tried this on other photos, the emulsion remained stable. I didn’t notice it had happened until it was dried and flaking off.

This photo of a charming, smiling elderly woman, has quite a poignant and shocking inscription on the back. ” T***, Sister to Grandma D***. Married an abusive husband, F****.” With such a tranquil, kindly face it is hard to read those words without a profound sense of shock and sadness. I hope she weathered her personal storm as well as her face suggests she might have.

All three names are inscribed in full (including a surname) but as the ladies have names that are very unusual, I thought it best not to publish any of them in case any members of her family are still with us. The photo is undated and came in a large mixed lot of photos from a seller in the USA.

  1. That’s quite sad. There are so many women who have lived miserable lives, unable to break away from their abusers. Lives lost to silence. She is very sweet.

    I wouldn’t rub a photo with water, but perhaps a warm bath as if it had just been developed.

    I occasionally use a piece of cotton with spit. Yes, spit. Old trick I learned in art college. Gentle dabbing with the moist cotton can sometimes remove dirt.


    • They are wonderful tips, thank you. I love your blog and visit it when ever I can, but cannot find out your name. Do you do everything anonymously or am I just not looking in the right place?


      • Yeah, anonymously. I just sneak in under the radar. I figure I’m not the subject of the blog, just the photos.


  2. In spite of the sadness for T*** that the words entail, it must have been exciting for you to find an inscription that actually had some meat to it. The way it was written, sounds like she may have put up with a lot. I see a sparkle in her eyes and a mischievous grin… I’d like to think she got him back.


    • It is true, Ted. Finding words like that on a photo, especially on a photobooth photo is very rare. I’d like to think she got him back but unfortunately that isn’t often the case for abused women.


  3. Mike said:

    I also sense a woman who could give as much as she got. She has the look of someone who would say what’s on her mind. As to her abusive husband, I’d like to smack him one.


    • I don’t see that myself, Sir Michael. I don’t think women who are abused are able to truly defend themselves. I’d like to do something to the husband too, but nothing physically violent. Just something sinister and psychologically awful… and permanent.


      • Mike said:

        I hear you. To be in an abusive relationship would by definition limit your opportunity for free expression. As to the man, yes, you do whatever you can concoct to scar his psyche and while you are figuring that out I’ll be punching him in the ribs.


  4. ehpem said:

    That is a fascinating note on the photo – was it put there by the person in the photo. If so, when? Why? If not her, was it a daughter or a sister or? Stories could be based on that inscription.

    As to cleaning photos – I have no advice. I live with a textiles conservator and she would say (I don’t need to ask, I know the answer) check with a major nearby museum that is likely to have a paper and or photograph conservator. They are usually happy to give advice on what you can and can’t get away with, etc. They might even spare some time to look at some of your problem photos.

    Also, if you search for photograph and/or paper conservation you are likely to find technical and expert articles that might be of some help. Anything originating from a museum or similar institution should be reliable.


    • Hi Mr E. I think it would have been added by a relative, many years after the photo was taken, possibly even after the sitter’s death. I agree there would definitely be stories to find in the inscription. If only I were a more creative and diligent writer!

      Thanks for the info about researching conservation techniques. I think I was in a mad moment when I was so cavalier with this precious photo. I knew a lot about how to do it properly but let all that knowledge fly out the window in my enthusiasm to see it look a bit better.


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