BY MIKE PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Picture this: no pictures.
For some victims of this month's Tristate floods, that's one of the many ways in which life will never be the same.
Thousands of snapshots, the visual aids that jump-start recollections of birthdays and first bikes, holidays and weddings and family vacations, got soaked and soiled and swept from the house by filthy, sometimes raging water.
And, aside from out-of-the-ordinary precautions, there's little that people in the flood area could have done to prevent it.
Photo albums, available in a variety of sizes, styles and materials, can do wonders in protecting your pictures from time, says Allen Cohen, manager at Jack's Camera Center, downtown. ''They'll keep your photos looking great for years.''
But when it comes to natural disasters like floods and fires, water and smoke can creep inside plastic sleeves, and the damage can be difficult to overcome.
Still, where there are memories, there is hope.
Ask Jason Keller, lab manager at Eastern Hills Camera, Kenwood, who says he was ''up to my elbows in mud'' last week, cleaning and restoring prints retrieved from flooded rooms.
The key, he says, is to clean them - gently but thoroughly - then let them dry slowly.
''If they dry too fast, they'll crackle and crack,'' he says. ''Especially older photos.''
Photographs that have been processed more recently are likely to be printed on plastic-coated stock, which is better protected and easier to clean, he said.
For best results in the cleaning process, use a photographic solvent called Photo Flo, available at most camera and photo supply stores. Or use clear tap water to ''get the mud and dirty water off,'' Mr. Keller suggests. ''Be careful not to scratch the prints. Wash them gently with your hands and avoid anything abrasive.''
When you've completed the cleaning and drying process - no extreme wind or heat - the next thing to do is to have the pictures copied.
''Anything that would have stabilized the photo over a period of time will be washed off,'' Mr. Keller says, either in the flood or your cleaning efforts. ''The photo will probably start to fade very quickly.''
More bad news: If you've jumped the technological gap and transferred your affections from snapshots to home video - maybe even dumped old prints after you put them on video cassettes - there may be no rescue.
''When home movies get wet, they dry real brittle,'' Mr. Keller says. They're difficult to clean, and, ''As soon as they dry out and you start to play them, they crack and break and turn to dust.''
The best way to save your keepsake pictures from the water and mud of flooding is to see that they don't get wet in the first place.
''For those people truly concerned about losing their pictures in something like a flood, they should store their negatives elsewhere, whether it be in a shoe box at a relative's house or in a bank safe-deposit box,'' says Allen Cohen, manager at Jack's Camera Center, downtown.
''That way, if the original prints are destroyed by flood or fire, you can retrieve the negatives and have duplicates made.''