Many years ago, I had a company, Fiber Based Photo, that offered custom black and white photographic printing and photo restoration. The film was processed by hand in the darkroom and, prints were printed archivally on fiber base paper. Since the photographic process isn’t stable, many photos from the past have started to fade. The least I could do was to preserve the images so the stories behind them can live.
I loved learning about the people in the images or why the event was so important. Being in the darkroom and watching the image appear was like meeting the person in the photo and spending time with them. I copied photographs of the 49’ers, the building the transcontinental railroad, and countless families photographed throughout the decades.
Back then, a customer brought me a deteriorated tintype photo of her mother.
It was the only photo she had of her mother so, I was determined to try my best. Although you couldn’t see an image with your naked eye, with the use of proper lighting techniques, Tech-Pan film (a black and white film with no grain), and a lot of patience, I was able to bring out the image. Once the photo was dry, the task of retouching started. In the day of film, that meant that removing dust and blemishes was done by hand. My tools of the trade were a 00 brush and a bottle of spot tone.
By the time I finished, I could at least see a face. I wish I could have done more, but at least my client was ecstatic.
Times have changed, and technology has taken over the photography process. I can now do more than what was possible in the past.
Last week I received a call from an older woman. She didn’t think I would remember her since it has been so long but I did. It was the same woman with the tintype photograph. She wanted more copies for her siblings. Well, I’m no longer printing in the darkroom so, I would have to use the digital technology at hand. This is where the tools in Photoshop help. I was able to remove a lot more of the artifacts and fill in where the image was missing.
I’m so happy that Mrs. B will be able to see her mother’s face. This is the only photo in existence. Her mother died when she was 5 years old giving birth to her 7th child. After the death of her mother, she and her siblings were placed in an orphanage.