Hello in There

Posted by on Dec 3, 2014 in Blog, Image Editing

Two images arrived needing retouching attention. Looking at them raised the question “what did they look like when they were new?” We have tools to clean up and technically bring back an image close to its original state. But we are not the viewer looking at the work for the first time. We are in the present looking at an image that has traveled through time. Conservation of art has to take that point into consideration when deciding how to proceed. If we have the ability to make the Sistine Chapel as it were on day one, should we? How can we know how a person viewing the work originally was affected by it? They had not viewed Van Gogh or Warhol or Ansel Adams which surely has changed the way we see things today. Even if we make the art technically pure it will be different to our eyes then it was originally. So in this case, I see retouching as a balancing act: letting the ravages of time recede, but the sense of time come forward.

In the early days of photography, long before we could carry thousands of images around in our pocket, photographs were applied to a piece of tin, a tin type. The following tin type had been crumpled and cut, attacked by mold and mildew and generally degraded over time.

Someplace in there is an image of a civil war soldier.


Lightening and adjusting contrast starts to show the soldier more clearly. However, the deterioration is obliterating a lot of the image, especially his hand on the rifle and the end of the rifle.


Lots of work has been done to recreate parts of the image that didn’t exist. The soldiers face is looking pretty good and his hands and rifle are reasonably believable, but the background just seems out of place.


Bringing back some of the deterioration helps anchor this piece in time. Now we see the soldier. He comes to us from a time long ago, on a piece of tin, that has somehow made it to the present.



Though not  obscured like the civil war soldier this portrait is more about the ravages of time rather than a young woman.


Cleaning the scratches and tears, adding contrast and clarity, the portrait looks good. Still, like the soldier, it appears to be missing something.


Finally, with increased blackness/contrast, with a warm tone introduced, the portrait appears pristine and to come from another time.

1 Comment

  1. Sandi Rygiel
    December 8, 2014

    Fascinating, Al! Love the progression of the tin type.