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Rare Portraits of Native Americans:
Accepting the Challenge
The monumental challenge of restoring the negatives was accepted by Earth Resources Observation Systems (EROS) Data Center, a data management, systems development, and research field center for the USGS. “We also maintain part of the archive of digital imagery,” according to Mike Austad, Digital Data Specialist and industrial photographer at EROS. Restoring the damaged images was beneficial all the way around, says Austad, since the USGS needed historical photos, and “The Blue Cloud Abbey wanted to tap our knowledge on archiving and preserving the data that was there.”
Austad was in charge of restoring the images. Fungus on the emulsion was only one of the challenges that EROS initially faced, he says, as they had been stored in a basement for so long. Not to mention that “acid between the plates had started to eat away at the emulsion and the glass plates were broken,” adds Napier. According to Austad, “Rather than trying to clean the negatives, which would damage the emulsion further, we decided to scan them.” He added, “I noticed that they were in glass plates. The photographer did a good job.”
He noted that many of the images were “lantern slides,” photos that were produced in the 1900s by developing positive images photographically, and then handpainting them with an organic dye or tinting process. Lantern slides were sandwiched between two glass covers and placed in a mat. The slides were projected in a “magic lantern,” which was a slide projection system illuminated by kerosene or coal oil lamps, and then shown on a wall. Austad says less than half of these slides have been restored thus far.
After scanning the negatives on
a flat-bed scanner at 1600 dpi to get an archival file, Austad scaled the working
files down to 300 or 400 dpi before he brought them into Photoshop. “In
this instance, the images are for historical reference, so we didn’t want
to add anything that wasn’t originally there. It was very painstaking.
A minimal amount of work was done to preserve accurate historical content,”
he pointed out. Historians were also called in to look at the images, date them,
and identify items that were pictured.
An Ongoing Process
Bridging the Gap
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