One of my very favorite things to do (besides photographing people of course) is to restore old photographs. I love taking something that is so degraded and ruined and making it whole again. We live in a wonderful digital age when restoring old images is so much easier than it used to be. Time was, the only way to reproduce something for which you had no negative was to re-photograph the old image to get a new negative to make another print from the new negative. And anyone who has ever seen a photograph of a photograph can tell that you loose something in the way of quality. Now we can just scan old photos and make another print! We can even scan old negatives! This summer I taught a digital imaging class with my husband at the Hutchinson Center (an extension of UMO in Belfast). One of my students had unearthed some old negatives that his great-grandmother had taken. The fact that his family still had them was cool enough. But we managed to take it a step further. Using the school’s film scanner, we scanned some of the negatives into the computer and made stunning 8×10 prints in a matter of 15 minutes or so. In a chemical darkroom, that would have taken a whole afternoon of fiddling around. How cool is that? As my student said, “My mother is going to freak out!”
So here are a few examples of photographs that I have restored. For information on pricing, please see the Photo Restoration page.
This first one is one of my favorites. I deliberately put up the smallest image size possible because all I had to work with was a tiny little 1 inch square. Notice how a whole chunk of her hat is missing. It used to be that if a photo was ripped or a piece of it was missing, the only way to fix it would be to hand paint (or airbrush) the missing part. Talk about time consuming. And next to impossible if large bits were gone.
And now look! A whole hat! And you can actually see her! I could make up to an 10×10 image of this woman and still have a perfectly sharp clear image.
This image was so faded, you could hardly see her face!
This one (below) was pretty cool as well. This young man is a tintype (also called a “ferrotype”). The image is printed directly onto a very thin piece of black enameled iron, which is part of why he looks so dark to begin with. The black bits you see are actually the iron showing through where the emulsion has scraped off.
Now, I know there are some people who totally disagree with restoring old images. They feel that these items are historical objects, and as such, should not be tinkered with, just preserved as they are. If everyone had the ability to mount and frame their images with museum quality materials and keep them temperature controlled forever, I would say sure, keep only the originals. But let’s be honest. Most people keep old family photos in moldy cardboard boxes. Or worse, found that their parents or grandparents stored them that way. And without some serious intervention, the images would be lost forever. You can’t really tell in the scan, but at the bottom of the original tintype of the young man, the emulsion is flaking off (it looks like a white stripe coming up his pant leg). Had they waited any longer to have the image scanned, whole chunks of the original image would have been lost. And when it comes to images of your family, what is really more important – that you display an original photograph or that you can see the people in the picture? This way, the image is preserved. What you would really want to do with something as cool as a tintype is display both the original and the restored image side by side. Because, let’s face it, there is something deeply cool about having an actual tintype. It is a piece of history. Its not something that is made anymore (except by a few dedicated photographic artists). But they are a bit hard to see and we know they don’t last forever. So having the image scanned and restored ensures that when your children have children, their children will still be able to see it.
There is something really awesome about the moment when you hand back a photograph of someone’s grandmother or great-grandfather that they’d chalked up as a loss. It’s priceless really. Helping people preserve their own history is in many ways just as important as making the images that will become their children’s history.
Gee, I love my work!