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  • Dorit Rabinovitch


Updated: Feb 25, 2020

In 1827 the very first first photograph, called "View from the Window at La Gras", was taken

in France. It was extremely grainy, and almost couldn't be made out. Actually it needed hand retouching in order to make sense of it; rather ironic. Today almost everyone on the planet has old (pre-digital) family or social photos and documents. Guaranteed 90% plus will not have the accompanying negatives. Of those the majority will be scratched, dog-eared, torn, stained, faded, burned, water-damaged, and just plain falling apart from age and neglect; but they are what connects us to our distant past - our cultural heritage. At very special times we refer back to, and share them lovingly with other family members - or just with ourselves! They stir up and clarify memories of long gone loved ones and events. Without them we are essentially devoid of our ancestors and history. They are priceless!

A scratched, stained and discolored small format photo from the late 19th century has been restored to its former pristine state. How was it done? The photo, which was in Daguerrotype mode, was found in an old cigar box along with equally damaged mementos. There was obviously no negative. The owner put the little photo into a bubble envelope and mailed it to the restorer, who upon receiving it scanned it as a giant file into her computer. Using a state of the art program for correcting these issues the artist, with her portrait artist expertise, set to work painstakingly restoring the damaged file by steps. She did most of this hard work intuitively using a wacom tablet and stylus, with her brain and eyes acting like a computer, filling in blank spots and removing large stains and knitting the main scratches with her digital brushes, to at last start to make sense of the whole picture. But that was just the first phase. After completing that, she zoomed in and out on detailed work. Minuscule smudges and white spots dotted the whole piece. There were imperfections caused by the chemically altered paper itself. She labored on, smoothing them out, and then blending them into the file. Ultimately the photo was whole and pristine looking again.

Only a last step remained. The scanned in file, like the original, was unnaturally dark and rather murky looking. With another program the artist manipulated the light and shade and tone until the file glowed warmly. What a magnificent recovery! then, almost as an anticlimax the artist emailed the work in its outsized file size to the client, while snail-mailing the original photo back to its source. There is nothing more satisfying than salvaging a memory!

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