Wednesday 30 March 2016

Digital Restoration

It is said that at interview, would-be Kodak employees had to put their hands onto a small piece of metal. The oils in some people’s hands would dramatically eat through the metal, whilst others wouldn’t. People with especially acidic hands would not get the job. I am unsure if this is true but it goes without saying- if your hands can dissolve metal, they shouldn’t be touching valuable photographs! 

Railway Junction Before and After
Railway Junction
Even without handling, photographs can become brittle, dog-eared and damaged over the course of their lives. Often, such items make their way into our archives where our conservators can try to repair and extend the life of the object.

Below are 35mm slides with a range of damages to them. The most prominent damage on these small images is fingerprints. Due to the small size, a single fingerprint can effectively obscure the whole image, and can be even more noticeable when enlarged.
Train Crash
Train Crash

Touching photographic materials with your hands transfers oils to the photograph, which will effectively etch onto the image over time. Digitising the image allows the use of image manipulation software such as Adobe Photoshop, and for most of the damage to be digitally removed. This is a relatively quick process- the longest time I spent editing one of these images was 15 minutes, the shortest only about 5 minutes! 
Crewe Station Before and After
Crewe Station

Photoshop can also enable fixes to take place after conservation has been completed. The image below is from a conserved glass plate negative which had been broken into a number of pieces and fixed back together. Upon digitising, black lines can be seen where the plate had previously been broken. Removing these is a quick job in Photoshop. This is a less invasive task than removing the large scale fingerprints and requires adding in fewer ‘new’ pixels to the affected area.
Glass Plate Before and After Photoshop
Glass Plate Image
Close up of repair
Close up of repair

It would be interesting to know people’s thoughts on this subject. Should we digitally restore our digitised images or keep them true to their current state?

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