Photograph Conservation Program

A pile of loosely rolled photos.


The Weissman Preservation Center offers a range of preservation services for photographic materials — prints, film-based negatives, glass-plate negatives, lantern slides, daguerreotypes and other cased photographs, and photograph albums, among others. The types of services include:

Preservation assessments

Do you have photographs in your collection, but you are unsure about how to preserve them? The WPC staff will make a site visit to your repository to help you determine the types of photographic materials you have and what their needs are in terms of storage, handling, cataloging and treatment. This service is a good first step in developing preservation priorities for your photograph collections.

Click here to contact the WPC about a photograph preservation assessment for your repository.

Condition surveys

A condition survey is an essential tool for assessing the stability of individual items and prioritizing treatment or housing activities. A survey is a systematic activity in which the condition of each photograph in a collection is noted on a custom form or spreadsheet. The survey is especially useful for small to medium size collections (fewer than 5,000 photographs) that have been selected for exhibition or digitization projects.

In some cases, a condition assessment may be more appropriate for a collection. Less formal than a survey, an assessment may flag photographs for treatment or custom housing, but does not provide condition notes for each item.

Click here to contact the WPC about a photograph collection survey or assessment.

Conservation treatments

Conservation treatments are performed on photographs primarily to stabilize them for access and to prevent further damage or deterioration. Treatments often lead to an improvement in image legibility and aesthetics. They can be done on single items or on batches of similar material. Examples include: flattening rolled prints, mending tears, consolidating flaking image layers, surface cleaning, repairing cracked glass-plate negatives, tape removal, inpainting of losses, etc.

Click here to contact the WPC about photograph conservation treatments.

Archival housing of collections

Photographs stored in poor quality or inadequate sleeves, folders and boxes are at high risk for image deterioration and physical damage. The WPC's conservation technicians are adept at re-housing large collections of similar items as well as fabricating custom housings for unique items, such as cracked glass-plate negatives. They can also devise safe and space-efficient systems for housing dissimilar items that must be kept together.

Click here to contact the WPC about photograph re-housing projects.

Cataloging of photographs

Intellectual control is essential for making photographs accessible to researchers. Cataloging strategies can range from collection-level entries, to finding aids, to item-level entries with or without digitized images.

The WPC's photograph cataloger can provide free consultation for all Harvard repositories, helping you develop the appropriate cataloging strategy for your collections. Cataloging of collections or individual photographs is available; however projects are scheduled on a priority basis. Click here to contact the WPC about photograph cataloging.

The following resources offer advice and guidelines for describing and cataloging photographs:

Technical analysis of materials

The Weissman Preservation Center uses a portable X-ray Fluorescence spectrometer, polarizing light and stereo binocular microscopes, ultraviolet light, and raking light to examine materials and  provide crucial information used in understanding photographic processes, date of printing, and in developing treatment options.

Other resources

Harvard Collections

Discussion Group

  • HarvardPhoto Listserv: An email discussion group for activities and issues pertaining to photography at Harvard