Save Our Memory

A Look Inside the Restoration of Historic Photos


In 1852 Leopoldo Alinari, with his brothers Giuseppe and Romualdo, founded a photographic workshop in Florence, which is at the heart of the firm that still bears his name: Fratelli Alinari. It was the beginning of a unique endeavour that specialised in photographic portraiture, works of art and historical monuments, achieving national and international recognition. With the help of stereomicroscopy technology from Leica Microsystems Alinari is able to preserve the cultural heritage – our memory – for the future generations of professional restorers.

The name of Alinari guarantees more than 150 years of experience and state of the art professional technology. Today there are over 2,750,000 b/w and colour negatives in various collections, from plates to colour photos, and over 900,000 vintage prints, including salted paper, albumen, bromide prints, calotype negatives, daguerreotypes, etc., preserved in the collection of 6,000 original albums. These are works by the greatest nineteenth and twentieth century photographers, both Italian and non-Italian, but also by many other less-known professional and amateur photographers. In 2001 the digital archive was inaugurated that continues to grow with images that can be viewed online. Today there are over 450,000 pictures available on the web (

Alinari museum and library

The collection of the Fratelli Alinari Museum of the History of Photography was established in 1985 and completed with a gallery in 1997 in Palazzo Rucellai on Via della Vigna Nuova and now in Santa Maria Novella. The Alinari National Museum of Photography (MNAF) is currently located in the fifteenth-century building known as "delle Leopoldine". The importance of this museum is also illustrated by its collection of cameras, advertisements, paper documents, frames and all those objects connected to the photograph which can be considered an integral part of its history. Another "vital" sector of the museum is the library specialising in the history of photography, with over 20,000 books and journals. The various exhibitions and projects focus on the educational aspect making the collections accessible to a heterogeneous public. One of the primary aims of the MNAF is to create a network of scientific and artistic institutions on a regional, national and international level.

Photographic restoration laboratory

Our restoration laboratory pursues conservation treatment and restoration from the great public archives deposited in museums, libraries, institutes and academies to materials belonging to the archives of industries and firms as well as private individuals. The laboratory is available for consultation and advisory services and various types of conservation treatment.

The Alinari laboratory engages in conservation treatment of many types of materials from the oldest daguerreotypes to calotypes, photographic prints, rare negatives on paper, collodion and silver glass-plate, up to the most recent colour proofs and negatives. We use the latest generation of stereo microscopes with FusionOptics™, video and 3D analysis for acquiring, storing, annotating and displaying high quality images of our heritage which needs restoration. Thanks to the fact that the microscope has an integrated digital camera, we can work using a large high definition flat screen instead of looking through the binocular tube of the microscope, thus allowing team collaboration.

In collaboration with the state institute for art restoration in Florence and the Italian Ministry of Culture, Alinari holds nine professional courses dedicated to the restoration of photographic materials. The target audience are professional restorers, archivists, historians and researchers who already have a good background in these topics. The courses include theoretical and practical experiments using the stereo microscope. The microscopic analysis supports the ­recognition of the original material, the analysis of the conservation status and effects of different methods of restoration.

The courses run by Alinari in collaboration with companies, universities and institutions offer a unique opportunity for teaching and providing continuous upgrades of knowledge to professionals on how to preserve the cultural heritage: photographic degradation is an intrinsic process due to the nature of photography. In fact, it is generated by a chemical and physical alteration of the light on the photo-sensitive substances.

Slowing down the degradation process

The restorer and conservation managers aim at slowing down this process, where possible, by operating on the micro ambiance (conservation cases and boxes) and on the macro ambiance (archive rooms and ­thermo-hydrometrical parameter management: humidity, lighting, quality of the air, temperature, etc.). After appropriate analysis and the recognition of the photographic process, the restorer can execute direct restoration of the photography.

Our professional courses take advantage of the digital management of the microscope: we project the microscope view through the control panel of the microscope, we provide live micro-navigation and 3D views of the degradations. The researcher and the restorer can annotate the pictures using a wide range of tools for measurement and reporting. Video sequences are executed to see and evaluate how some chemical agents  react on the paper or on other photographic surfaces. With the multi-point focus we obtain images which could not be realised until now: better quality and more information on the object under analysis.

Alinari is going to set up a lot of new research projects to respond to the needs and scenarios provided by the restoration laboratory while using microscope techniques.

Fig. 2: Restoration laboratory using microscopy techniques.

Externally offered services

Alinari offers access to its collection and laboratory for external researchers and companies for collaborative research activities, general knowledge and expertise. Our services are also offered to government bodies for analysis and reporting about photography authentication, courses/workshops and publications for safeguarding photographic collections, such as ANAI (Associazione Nazionale Archivistica Italiana), and the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities.

Useful links on restoration (Italian)

Centro Conervazione e Restauro

Opificio delle Pietre Dure

Associazione Nazionale Archivista Intaliana (ANAI)

Instituto Superiore per la Conservazione ed il Restauro

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