Common Photo Damage: Crazing


Common Photo Damage: Crazing

Photos may not seem alive to you, but they react and are impacted by the environment that surrounds them. Most photo damage happens slowly over time and takes people by surprise one day. While there are many types of photo damage, environmental deterioration is one form that can be almost 100% avoided in today’s world.

Environmental damage happens when air, water, temperature, sunlight, and other elements effect a photo negatively. It was hard to protect photographs in the past, but we live in a world that has a number of solutions to defeat these environmental issues. One of the more common forms of environmental damage that we see in our studio is crazing.

What is crazing?

You probably think about pottery and ceramics when you hear the word “crazing,” but it can easily happen to most types of photos. It is very common in polaroid chemistry, but it can happen in everything from tintypes to dye sublimation prints and everything in between. Crazing occurs when an emulsion is exposed to constantly shifting degrees of humidity. As temperature levels rise and fall, the photo emulsion will expand and contract accordingly – much like the glazing on pottery and ceramics. Tiny cracks run through a piece and portions of the emulsion can fall off or curl.

crazingThis is considered “environmental damage” because it is a direct result of temperature. A photo can be exposed to crazing if it:

  • Has been on display in a home without air conditioning
  • Hangs over a fireplace
  • Is in a non-living environment that constantly shifts between cold and hot temperatures (i.e. – an attic, garage, car, etc.)

Once crazing happens, a full restoration can only occur in a reproduction. An original photo can be stabilized to slow down the damage, but it is hard to reverse the damage from crazing. A professional can use conservation techniques to preserve the original and then digitize for reproduction or posterity. We do not recommend utilizing any do-it-yourself remedies or scanning severely damaged photos.

How do I prevent crazing from happening?

The easiest way to prevent crazing is to store your photographs in an environment that has stable humidity levels. The Library of Congress recommends storing photos in a dry environment of about 30% – 40% humidity and should be kept in a stable environment (no attics or basements).

We live in the Mid-Atlantic region, and de-humidifiers have become our best friends in the summer. Storing photos in a first or second floor closet, shelf, etc. will keep them out of the way and ensure that they are in a stable environment. If you’re physically uncomfortable in a space because it is too hot or too cold, then there’s a good chance that your photos feel the same way.

Crazing can happen to most types of photos and is often unseen by the naked eye. Like most photo damage, the best way to “fix it” is to prevent it. To learn more about photo restoration and common photo problems, visit our guide – Getting Started: Photo Restoration.