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  • Writer's pictureGeorgie Gould

Capture, Preserve, & Restore -- Oh My!

With a vast project like the digitization of the RMWHS Archive, why on earth would anyone choose to add another step to their process? It would be like climbing up the 1304 Steps of Our Town then adding a sprint up the Manayunk Wall for fun.

I can sum it up with one word -- discovery.

We all have old images we can look at under a magnifying glass with a bright light -- but what might be on the image that we can't see with the human eye?

Time, moisture, oils from our hands, light exposure, and more, contribute to the deterioration of the image and the medium it's on. Whether the image is on paper, card stock, tin, glass, film, negatives, and even deer hide, the elements will eventually take their toll.

So by going one step further than the original goal of "capture & preserve" -- to include "restore" -- fresh life can be brought to old images and potentially lead to new discoveries.

If you are not a tech person, it's a little bit like adjusting the color or contrast on your TV ... but it goes a lot deeper and can revive or bring out what was unseen in the original item. In some cases, with enough time and effort, physical damages to some original images (like scratches, tears, and smears) can be reduced, undone or even masked.


Below is a prime example of "a quick fix." This 3x5 post card of Roxborough in the snow, has seen better days. Years of light exposure have caused the image to fade and yellow. The card so no signs of physical wear so it may have been stored in a frame at one time; however, even artificial light and indirect sun light take their toll.

In truth, the scan used to digitize the an image also adds to the light damage an image will suffer in its lifetime. Therefore, it is important to scan an image as little as needed and only once if possible. For the images in the RMWHS Archive, I make the highest quality scan I can conceive RMWHS could ever need of an image so the process will never have to be repeated. Once the scan is complete, I create a copy of the digital image file to experiment with in Photoshop.

This snowy winter image needed contrast and exposure adjustments to bring out some details long lost. For example, the street lamp was something I had not noticed until the "after." It hangs like a Christmas ornament over the carriage below.

Keeping in mind that the original postcard is only 3x5 -- the enlarged section below reveals truly amazing detail. The texture of the snow, stone, street pole, carriage, horse's mane, harness with bells, and the wooden sleigh is quite detailed. On the right over the porch railing, you can even see globs of snow that were captured falling from a tree branch when the photographer took the photograph all those years ago. None of this details was discernible in the postcard -- it took the scan and some digital adjustments to recover what was lost or too small to be seen.

Another item visible in the detail is something I often find in old images, but it was not part of the original photograph. If you look closely at the snow just below the sleigh, you can see lines that look like someone raked the snow. These are actually the swirls of a thumbprint deposited on the postcard long ago. Proof that you can make a lasting imprint on any image you touch.


If you would like to learn more about the RMWHS Archive or our digitization project, or would like to tell us about your local photographic treasures, contact us. Meanwhile handle your photos carefully and keep them safe from the elements!


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