Usually, if you want to craft with or display a vintage photograph, I’d suggest that you photocopy the photo, and use only the copy.
However, our stuff is in our lives to be loved by us, or what’s the point of dragging it around behind us when we move? If you truly want to display your actual vintage photographs, then I say go ahead!
Just… do a couple of things differently, okay?
1) Give your photo the nearly white glove treatment.
When I worked with photographs in a special collections library long ago, we were required to enforce the “white glove rule”: photographs may only be handled with white cotton gloves. While you do not have to give your own photos the white glove treatment, you should remember that it’s the gold-standard way to handle photos for a reason, and that reason is the fact that our hands?
Seriously, our hands are gross. Not only are they dirty, but they’re oily, and the oil from your fingertips can eventually degrade photographs. Touch your vintage photograph only at the edges, and yes, if you’ve got a pair of white cotton gloves handy, feel free to use them.
2) Do NOT tape or glue your photograph!
While you have seen me treat old book pages and photos pretty cavalierly in some of my tutes, you’ve ONLY seen me do that when the book pages, record album covers, vintage sheet music, or photo has no monetary or emotional value, other than what I’m going to make out of it.
If your vintage photograph DOES have monetary or emotional value (and when you consider if it has monetary value, be aware of things like the clothing style of those in the photo, or the background scenery, or the model of car–they’re simply not making bullet bras and 1945 Oldsmobiles anymore!), then you want to keep it pristine, which means NO tape and NO glue should touch it, not even on the back.
The easiest solution is a set of photo corners, which you can find archivally safe and in pretty much any color that you’d want. Attach the corners to your archivally safe mat board, and then simply slip the photo in. It’s safe, secure, and easy to remove with no lasting effects.
3) Use archivally safe mat boards.
You may have also noticed that I LOVE myself some fancy DIY mat boards. I display a lot of my own photographs, and I like to craft interesting mat boards for them, using materials like comic books, dictionary pages, or even candy wrappers.
This is not what you use when you mat a vintage photograph. Comic books and dictionary pages and candy wrappers aren’t safe for permanent storage, and they could very well degrade your photo over time. I don’t care so much about that photo of my kid at the beach, because I can just print out another one in fifty years, but I DO care about my Pappa’s World War 2-era photos. For those, I use a plain mat board–cheap, easy to find, and reliably acid-free.
Once you’ve got those basics in mind, you’re pretty well set. You already know to keep your artwork out of direct sunlight, and although I prefer to keep my photos under glass instead of plastic, that’s just me. But most of all, just enjoy your photos, love them, and keep them safe while you have them–they may last forever, but you won’t!