I have a stack of loose pages on that old black construction paper. Here is what one of them looks like:
The caption, written in white ink on the black paper, is quite difficult to read, but it says "Miss Rice at Camp" and "Music Instructor." And this is one of the more legible captions. Some of them are nearly impossible to read.
In some cases, the pictures are already nearly falling off the black paper, but bits of the paper are securely stuck to the photo. After scanning the photo, I pulled it off the paper, which brought some of the black paper with it. I decided to take a chance and try soaking off the black paper residue.
In fact, it comes off very easily. The picture dried nicely with no apparent damage. Now I can see what the back of the picture says!
Miss Rice, Music Instructor at Camp Chedwel, Summer of 1917.
There is a side benefit: getting these pictures off the black paper removes them from a source of leaching acids, so they may actually survive longer this way. The photo shows no sign of damage to the emulsion side and actually seems cleaner for having been washed for a few minutes. It did, however, gain a couple of visible water spots. That means I have to figure out a better way to dry it. I'm going to try a nylon mesh drying rack. Should I be using some kind of squeegee? Maybe, but these prints are kind of fragile, so maybe I will just try to make do with paper towels. Do they make acid-free paper towels? Maybe I am losing my mind...
I may try this technique with the rest of this batch of loose, disintegrating album pages. That way I'll have a high-resolution digital image, a scan of any annotations on the album pages, and a scan of any hidden annotations on the backs of the original photos.