October 12, 2010

Scanning Glass Plates

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 4:27 pm

Glass was the natural substrate to use for a photographic negative back in the early days of photography.  Every photo student has heard the stories of going “on-location” with a glass-plate camera, most likely in the context of photographers like Matthew Brady photographing the Civil War.  The process involved disappearing inside a light-proof tent to coat the glass with a light-sensitive emulsion, then inserting the plate in the camera to then expose.

We’ve worked on several projects involving glass plates, including some plates that hadn’t stood up too well to the ravages of time.  One plate was broken into more than a few pieces- then taped together.  It was an early shot taken of the Boston Braves- the Boston baseball team that eventually became the Red Sox.  Unfortunately one of the cracks went right through the batter, who was caught mid-swing.  Photoshop, though, made it easy to cut and paste the negative back together and clean up the edges.  By the time we were done with it, you’d never have known it was anything but the original!

The shot above was a yard-sale find.  It looked like an interesting image that begged the background story- who are these people, where is this house?  Perhaps we can find out more…

This plate was part of a project we did in 2009 for the Billerica Historical Society, the Billerica Union Hall.

Each project demands a slightly different approach.  Like any restoration, the degree to which you “fix” the image depends on how much you’re trying to reproduce the image as it remains today, or reproducing it as it was originally.  It’s more about the way the images will be used, the story you’re trying to tell with them.  …and, in spite of all the power of Photoshop, in many cases we’re pushing our top-end equipment to the limit to dig through the layers of Time, and thick, uneven emulsions to find the true image.

Still, in spite of all the technology and the process, sometimes you have to step back and marvel at these unique, historic, yet timeless images.   It’s what makes our work at Parrot so much fun!

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