Safely Cleaning the Back of a Photo

Dear Donia,
How do I clean black photo album paper off the back of a photo?

writing on back of photo


Q. Dear Donia,

I read your piece about removing old photos from a black cardboard album. I gently removed a photo which had been glued to the page in order to see the writing on the back. However, in removing the black cardboard stuck on the back of the picture it was stained by the cardboard. Is there any way I can clean this without losing the pale writing underneath which seems to be in pencil or old ink? Many thanks, Gordon

A. Dear Gordon,

I am guessing that when you say the black paper stained the photograph, that there is actually still a layer of the black paper on the photo? If so, you can try to gently scrape the black paper off the photo with a palette or icing knife (or a butter knife without serrations) to remove more of the black fibers from the photo. Just be careful to not go too far and remove the back of the photo and the writing you are trying to read. If the writing is still too light, you can try scanning the back of the photo and enhance the writing digitally.

I would avoid trying any moisture to release the paper at this point since you could also remove some of the ink. If you determine it is in pencil and not ink, you can try a slightly damp cotton bud to remove any remaining black paper but, as with scraping, don't go too far.

I hope this helps.