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Weaver, Gawain. "Mechanical Damage"

From George Eastman House : Notes On Photographs

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return to the Lexicon for Photograph Deterioration

Mechanical damage includes all purely physical, non-chemical damage, including tears, creases, surface abrasions, dog ears, dents, and delamination. It is the most straightforward form of deterioration, but it does come in different forms, and it’s useful to be clear about the terminology we use to describe it.

The edges of a print are uniquely exposed to certain forms of mechanical damage, such as binder folding-over and loss, delamination, and dog-eared corners. These damages occur when the edges of a print come into contact with another object. Perhaps the most common is folding-over of the gelatin binder along the edges. Small pieces of binder are lifted up and folded-over onto themselves or simply broken off. This is less noticeable when the print is overmatted or when the print has a white border. Delamination occurs when the paper support is split at the edge, while dog-eared corners are a combination of delamination, binder lifting, and some creasing that occurs at the corners.

The surface of the photograph is also quite vulnerable. For example, loss of binder by scraping may occur if a photograph is stored unprotected in a drawer that is too full (Figure 25 and detail). Other damage, such as minor surface abrasions, tears, and creases all fall into this category, and they can make a significant impact on the viewing of a print.

The causes and prevention of mechanical damage are readily understandable. Careful handling and a basic knowledge of good mounting and storage practices is all that is needed to prevent such damage.[1]

Figure 25 (detail). Edward Weston, Dillard King, Monteagle, Tennessee, 1941. The detail highlights mechanical damage to the print, with complete loss of image and exposure of paper fibers in the damaged area. (Courtesy George Eastman House, Acc. No. 1966.0070.0055; ©1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents)
Figure 25. Edward Weston, Dillard King, Monteagle, Tennessee, 1941. (Courtesy George Eastman House, Acc. No. 1966.0070.0055; ©1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents


  1. Gawain Weaver, "Mechanical Damage" excerpt from A Guide to Fiber-Base Gelatin Silver Print Condition and Deterioration, electronic publication, April 2008.