Monroe Payne Photography | Reliving (and restoring) the Past

Reliving (and restoring) the Past

March 05, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Many times, people have asked me what's involved in restoring a photo. I can never seem to find the right words to say to let them know both the complexity of the task or how many steps are involved. They seem to think that its a matter of scanning, playing in Photoshop and you're done. The truth is quite a bit different, and involves not just the image, but the precious memory and feelings of the person who is asking for the restoration. It involves the presentation of the final image in a way that will add to the pride of the owner, and the dedication of the one doing the restoring.

There are some things that can't be fixed - like poor focus or an image so light or dark it can't be pulled out of the ether. But in most cases, when I have something acceptable to work with, I can almost do miracles.

 

This past December I was offered a challenge; to restore an image that was created in 1970 of a High School friend jumping her horse.

To say that this image was in less than ideal condition is an understatement. The frame was welded, rusted iron, spray painted black. The frame back was cut from some masonite lattice work, the mat was only slightly better than construction paper - and the image itself had been in storage for twenty to thirty years.

The photographer had done a beautiful job on the image itself, and you could almost feel the wind rushing past, and the thunder of the horses' hooves as it leapt into the air to clear a hurdle. The image had lost some of its vibrancy over the years, but the core image was good even though the mold, water, specks and physical damage had taken its toll.

The emotional value of the photo was more than just an image. The photo was a memory of a younger, more carefree - almost immortal girl, taking flight with her horse, the muscles of the massive beast rippling under the saddle and the wind, the smell - in short, a memory of one of the happiest and most exhilarating moments in her life.

Call it a holy calling - I had to bring this image back to a state of joy, and pride.

 

This is where it started:

The frame had rusted.

The mat was stained.

The white border between the image and mat was badly yellowed and otherwise discolored.

The image itself had spots, speckles, water stains throughout the sky and particularly under the horse.

Since this was to be the recovery of a moment in time which represents freedom, exhilaration and pride, I had to make it look - if not new, like a treasured classic portrait of the moment in time.

 

I chose to not add vibrance or extra saturation to the photo - my thought is that it would make the image look fake or contrived. The relative color rendition is appropriate to images of that time, but the defects due to handling and storage would have to be corrected.

The beginning task was to get the highest quality image of the photo as possible and to restore it by correcting defects using the computer. Using two strip lights at about a 45° angle from each side and the heaviest, sturdiest tripod available I used my Canon 5DII to capture a raw image for processing.

The actual restoration process involved dividing the photo (roughly 22" X 20") into 1" square blocks and correcting each bit using Photoshop's arsenal of image manipulation tools.

Because this image is not a standard size and I wanted to be as faithful as I could to the original. I had it printed by my favorite pro lab on a 24" square background, intending to cut it down to the eventual frame size. Next came the decision of framing.

Although I am pretty savvy when it comes to frame design, I always leave the final decision to the client, who has a better idea of what she wishes the end product to be like, and the decor of the room it will be displayed in than I ever will. I gave her 4 choices of mat and frame that I felt enhanced the image, and she made her choice.

 

What do you think?

So this is a thumbnail sketch of what's involved in a restoration project.

What memories do you have buried in storage that need to see the light of day again?

When did you feel immortal, with the wind blowing past your hair?

What memories do YOU want to pull out and relive once more?

Who do you know who is celebrating a 50'th anniversary or another moment in their lives that started so long ago?

Bring the moments, those joyful, heart racing moments back.

Call me. Let's talk.


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