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City News

Posted on: September 3, 2020

New Archives Exhibit Unveils the Magic of Photo Conservation

18 - Consolidating delaminating paper around the edges of each photograph with wheat starch paste (C

COQUITLAM, B.C., Sept. 3, 2020 – The ease of reprinting digital photos these days means people no longer have to worry about losing a treasured snapshot to physical damage.

That’s not always the case for the City of Coquitlam Archives, which commonly accepts donations of fragile one-of-a-kind printed photographs in desperate need of care.

Fixing a Moment in Time: Conservation of Photographic Prints – the newest online exhibit at – captures the magic of photo conservation and illustrates how three of the Archives’ badly damaged historic panoramic photos were carefully brought back to life. Readers also get tips on how to protect their own cherished printed photos.

A Combination of Science and Art

Printed photographs have many enemies, among them humidity (either too high or too low), glue, improper storage, and human touch or carelessness. The Archives sets aside a portion of each year’s budget to restore and preserve important records, including photographs.

Fixing a Moment in Time walks readers through the recent restoration of three panoramic group shots of Coquitlam students and church congregations from the 1940s and 1950s that couldn’t be safely digitized or stored because of their decayed state: curled edges, cracks from being rolled up, delamination, dirt and stains.

With photos and text, the exhibit breaks down the painstaking conservation process – a combination of science and art – conducted by a professional paper conservator.

The multi-step process begins with a close examination under bright light, known as “raking light,” and ends with three clean and stable photographs that can be safely handled without risking further damage. Readers may be interested to learn that the goal is not to eliminate all signs of damage, which is part of the photograph’s story, but rather to prevent further decay and to stabilize the item for long-term survival and use.

Tips for Preserving Photographs

The exhibit also provides readers with tips for preserving their own printed photographs, such as:

  • Store them in cool, dry and stable environments – not attics and basements;
  • Keep them in acid-free envelopes, plastic sleeves or photo albums;
  • Avoid tape, glue or magnetic or sticky-paged photo albums; and
  • Identify people, places and dates for future viewers, either on the album page or gently written on the back with a soft pencil.

Further preservation details and photography care resources are provided in the exhibit.

Explore Online Exhibits

The Archives website at features 12 online exhibits on a variety of topics. Archives staff produce a new exhibit each quarter, mining the Archives for insightful and sometimes quirky stories about Coquitlam’s past. Some exhibits also share information about new acquisitions and highlight upcoming events.

Each online exhibit marries engaging text with scans of documents, maps and photos to bring the subjects to life. Online visitors can while away a pleasant afternoon learning about Coquitlam’s First World War soldiers, the City’s changing boundaries, the local business that was Canada’s first plywood producer, early scrapbooking efforts, Coquitlam’s May Day tradition, Colony Farm’s Holstein herd, the Westwood racing circuit, the history of Coquitlam Centre and the story of psychiatric nursing at Essondale, among other topics.

About the City of Coquitlam Archives

The City of Coquitlam Archives serves a dual purpose: to preserve and to make accessible. Since the inception of the archives program, Coquitlam has been raising its profile to encourage people to use its services and discover the trove of records in the collection. Other outreach includes weekly #TBT posts on the City’s social media platforms and a small collection of historic photos at

For more information about the City of Coquitlam Archives and to view the online exhibits, visit

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