Photoshop is not restoration.

July 10, 2011

Semantics are semantics, and perhaps the field of conservation in America is a little too caught up in drawing clear ethical lines between conservation and restoration, but ultimately, words have meanings.  These words “Restoring a Photograph from the 19th Century” do not describe the rest of the post:

My standard operating procedure is to use an ultra-high resolution camera combined with a top-of-the-line macro lens to photograph tintypes. I use strobe lights to illuminate the artwork. Strobes produce “hard” light, much like the sun on a clear day.  In addition to the strobes, I place a polarizer over the camera lens and polarizer gels over the strobe lights. This eliminates all reflections and enables the camera to pick up a greater tonal range along with more detail…

From here, I began the laborious process of restoration, which involved a prodigious amount of retouching. The process took about four hours. The client requested that I eliminate the hackneyed rose color from the cheeks and chin that the photographer had applied to the original…

I printed the restored image on 100% cotton paper. The print should last for a couple hundred years if it is stored in an acid-free and climate controlled environment. If it is matted and framed properly behind UV blocking glass and displayed out of direct sunlight, it will last for generations…

Click through to see the “restored” images for yourselves.

Scanning, Photoshopping, and printing a retouched surrogate is a wonderful way to provide a family with a display image that they can hang on their wall, but the original photograph hasn’t been restored in the least.  And of course, the surrogate copy may last a couple of hundred years or it may last five depending on how well the “restorer” read his Wilhelm Imaging research guidelines.

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