I'm in the middle of restoring and scanning a collection of photos shot by E. L. Moore. The first batch were in fairly good physical condition: little fading; no tears, creases or folds; mostly flat and flexible. They were good enough to be scanned as is. The second batch, shown in the picture above, are a bit worse off, but still quite restorable. The biggest issue is that most are permanently curled and can't be flattened without damaging the paper and image.
This is one of the bigger photos. It's got a permanent curl on the lower half, and the paper is stiff, brittle and not flexible. It can't be scanned in this condition without damaging the image.
For the longest time I was asking and searching everywhere for a method to flatten these sorts of photos. I was surprised at how little practical information there was. In the end I came across a woman who explained how to get these flattened, but I had to swear that I wouldn't write a how-to about the process. I agreed. Look, consider this, at one point I asked some scientists at Bell Labs who were photography experts how to do this and they had no practical advice, so maybe this is a special process.
I will show before and afters of the flattened photos because if you out there in blogland have some old curled up photos you are thinking of discarding because they don't seem usable, I'd like to encourage you to hang on to them and find someone local who can flatten them for you. It can be done and you'll be happy with the results. And you might be saving some piece of history by doing so.
Here's that curled photo just after the uncurling process. Although it's not completely flat, it now has almost like new flexibility and is only slightly curled. The curl can't be completely removed because the paper fibres have been permanently stretched over the decades it's been in that curled condition. This isn't a big issue because the paper is flexible enough to be scanned or put in a frame or album.
This is that image after scanning and a little tweaking. It's a staged scene along the Eagleroost & Koontree's Goat Pass that I haven't seen before.
As they say on tv, but wait, there's more! That's a completely rolled up photo I had in my family history files. It was dry, brittle and inflexible. Someone had tried to unroll it and caused a tear in the edge and put a crease in the image.
After processing, this is what I saw. I was amazed. The paper felt almost as flexible as new.
After scanning and a little image processing, this is the final picture. Looks almost like new. Yeah, the crease is still there. I could get rid of it with a bit more tweaking, but regardless, even with it in, the image is now quite presentable and maybe even gives it a little authenticity.
I suspect the picture was shot in the mid to late 1940s, so the photo is around 70 years old. That's my grandmother's sister dead centre in the second row. It's results like this that make me want to dissuade you from tossing out even completely curled photos.
To see what would happen, I let the photo sit on a shelf instead of mounting it. After a few weeks it curled into this shape, and after a few months still looks that way. But, the paper is still very flexible and can be flattened without damaging the paper, so I could still go ahead and frame it or put it in an album.
I hope I've convinced you to not throw out those old photos.