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How to Remove Dry Mounted Photograph from Backing?

Andre Noble , Jun 04, 2011; 12:38 p.m.

Hello, can anyone recommend a competent business or service (I live in Southern California) that can safely remove a treasured, fiber based, dry-mounted photograph (it's of Henry Miller) from a crummy backing?

Thanks in advance. Andre


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Lex Jenkins , Jun 04, 2011; 02:20 p.m.

That's a really tricky situation. Offhand I can't think of any way to safely separate a photograph from the mounting board that was prepared with the heat type dry mounting process.

I'd ask a conservation specialist. Locally, I'd contact the Amon Carter Museum here in Fort Worth, Texas, since they have expertise in works on paper.

Gary Nakayama , Jun 04, 2011; 02:55 p.m.

If you get it off, I would recommend that you NOT dry mount it the next time. There are other non-permanent mounting methods specifically so the print can be remounted if/when the mounting board needs to be replaced.
Having said that, I do dry mount some of my pix. I figure that I can always reprint it if I need to. ...as long as I don't loose the negative.
gud luk

ned elliott , Jun 04, 2011; 07:19 p.m.

I remember seeing somewhere...if it was put on with dry mount tissue (vs. adhesive foam core board) it can be removed by reheating the whole mess until it loosens. Dont know if it is true but it may be worth a try.

ned elliott , Jun 04, 2011; 07:21 p.m.

There are other non-permanent mounting methods specifically so the print can be remounted if/when the mounting board needs to be replaced

Woukd appreciate if you could point me in that direction.

Lex Jenkins , Jun 04, 2011; 07:58 p.m.

Review some of the discussions that compare various mounting techniques, including current preferences for conservation mounting. Generally speaking, any conservation mounting technique that's considered suitable for works on paper - watercolors, drawings, etc. - is also suitable for fine art photographic prints.

This usually involves acid-free archival paper or linen tapes with a museum or hinge-mount technique. The tape is water soluble and can be removed and replaced as needed. It's not permanent and photos will not lie perfectly flat. This isn't very noticeable with any size RC paper or with smaller fiber prints, around 8x10 or smaller. Larger fiber prints will show some minor waves or buckles, depending on how the prints were dried, ambient humidity, etc. You can see examples in most fine art galleries and museums that feature works on paper from contemporary artists.

Some photographers still prefer heat type dry mounting. This produces mounted photos that are as flat and free of wrinkling and buckling as the mounting board itself. This method is also relatively easier to align compared with wet or adhesive spray mounting.

I haven't used a heat type dry mount press in decades. Occasionally I'll use 3M spray adhesive to mount RC prints on foamcore or other backing, but these are mostly for temporary displays, not for long term archival purposes. I have some 11x14 RC prints mounted this way on good quality foamcore that are still in good condition after 8 years. It's a convenient technique but I wouldn't use it for fiber prints or anything I expected to be considered of any long term value.

Michael Axel , Jun 05, 2011; 01:18 a.m.

If the backing is archival, but just messed up or dirty, then I would try to mat around it.

Here's the deal: On a newer dry mounted print, you can often get it off by doing it under humid conditions (like a steamy bathroom, or vaporizer in a small room). But with really old mounted prints, it is nearly impossible. You could also try lightly wetting the back of the mount, and see if re-pressing it would release the backing when the steam goes through it. The risk with any type of method, such as this, is that the print becomes mottled if it was an older paper that could be ferrotyped, and it might mottle the surface.

Finally, you could try to remove the backing in layers, but it still leaves the cruddy part next to the print. I would be inclined to do some research online, probably starting with Kodak, Eastman House, or RIT, and see what they can offer. I believe they have a restoration unit. Look for the name Stacey VanDenbergh, or something close to that.

Peter Mounier , Jun 05, 2011; 11:45 a.m.

I have always dry mounted my prints, but never really thought about removing them from the backing. But your question made me curious so I thought I'd give it a try with an old print that wasn't important to me. The main impetus was the thought that when paper is wet for a long enough period, it disintegrates. I was hoping that the mounting board would just disintegrate away from the print. So I took an old fiber based print, mounted on 3 ply crescent matt board with Seal Color Mount tissue, and put it in a tray of water. I left it there for about 8 hours before I checked it again. By that time the board had started to separate into its separate plies. I easily pulled the print, along with the top paper layer of the mounting board off the rest of the board. I put it back in the water for a few more hours. The next time I checked it, I was able to separate the remaining layer of paper from the print, leaving me with just the print and the dry mount tissue (still firmly attached to the back of the print). I finessed a corner of the dry mount tissue off the print, and began to peel away the tissue from the print. Being very careful to pull it apart, I continued separating the print from tissue until I got about 80% of the tissue removed. The rest stuck, and I thought that would be all I could get, so I blotted it, and put it aside to dry. After about 15 minutes drying (the print was still very damp) I tried to peel away the remaining tissue and to my surprise the rest came off with a little care and patience. There is still some residue from the tissue stuck to the print, but nothing that would affect the appearance on the surface, should it be remounted. I consider the experiment a success. I might not be willing to try it with your Henry Miller print, unless it's your last resort, but I do feel Like I've discovered something useful.


Andre Noble , Jun 05, 2011; 03:47 p.m.

Thanks all for your reponses. Andre

Lex Jenkins , Jun 05, 2011; 08:37 p.m.

Thanks, Peter. I wondered whether that approach might work but I never was willing to risk it. Makes sense that it would work, since photo prints tend to be fairly durable and able to withstand long immersions.

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