Published: Saturday 29th of November 2003 06:43:09 AM
It's fascinating to hear of your devotion to the meticulous recovery of these images Michele - the love inherent in such caring actions of restoration are phenomenal (and probably lost on photo.net for the most part). I wonder if the reading of the script - the "negative" of the photographer - has become inseparable from the art of producing its positive - the exhibition of the image itself: for that reason I think it would be unhelpful to stay on the plane of content when viewing these images: they are not isolated, separated, and distantiated from the modern idiom, because you have restored them to this moment. And in the spirit of the photographer, it is the lighting which he captures - that which you have detailed in your efforts to reveal, which makes this image haunting. It reminds me of certain images which are produced by a photographer in collaboration with a printer: the quality is distinct from that of a photographer, who interprets his own work. It also strikes me that you are probably discovering more from the images when you restore them, than a viewer can, when he gazes into the via Roma, although the earnestness is translated well, even for the casual viewer, in its wider socio-historic context. An artist sees an image in contradistinction to a historian and a street-dweller familiar with the scene. I surmise I am happy, not so much transcending other perspectives through the aesthetic domain, but more or less, suspending the historical, or the fashionable in an image: it is less the content that appeals to me, than its aesthetics. On the other hand, my knowledge of negative duping and contact printing/producing internegatives is fairly limited; because of this, and despite the limitation of the web browser, I find the photoshop work to be very acceptable. I don't know if using copy-film like Kodak Tech Pan, or fine grained emulsions with diluted low contrast developer (Maco UP25) as a direct contact sheet up to 10"x8" would help. It could be a very expensive experiment gone wrong, however would not interfere with the original. Contact printing is probably less challenging then: either experimenting at translating the glassplate at an exposure for a smaller aperture over a longer durations (checking for fall out in the extremities too) and on Grade II paper as you have already suggested. Beyond that, I know little else. Photoshop then has its advantages, when applied faithfully, in the spirit of the original. Kind regards, Jason
I am struck by the ghostliness of the buildings and the veiled dress of the women in this image: it generates a nostalgic ambience which marks a clear departure from contemporary society. In no small measure, the contribution of the flat lighting and low contrast in the image augments this experience. Perhaps the photographer had not intended it this way. Strange how the meaning of intent is altered through time too. In attempting to unravel a photographer's interpretation of a glassplate, there is some artifact in the digital technique. Nonetheless, the reproduction (if this image does not move further than that) is pleasing. If the via Roma leads to the heavens, then a measured square crop to obliterate the sky and upper relief of the buildings might not be acceptable. As a restored plate, the restoration is delightful. Kind regards,
This person really had a great eye for photography. I'm really drawn into this picture when I look at it from bottom to top.
Wonderful! You have done it, Michele, to retrieve such a delicate tone of walls. At the same time, I am strongly impressed that the old time plate could get these rich tonal information already.
Jason, thanks again for your comments and suggestions. I am trying to convert all the plates into a digital medium so that I can distribute copies on CD or DVD; this would also guarantee, to some extent, the conservation of the images regardless of what may happen to the plates (provided, of course, that the well known problems with the conservation and reliability of digital archives are somehow dealt with). The best thing would probably be directly to scan the negatives, but high quality transparency scanners for a 18x24cm format are not cheap, and I am not sure that the great tonal range of the original plates would be preserved. I found scanning the contact prints an acceptable compromise. Producing intermediate films may be a better idea, but I am not familiar with copying media - I may experiment a bit when I have some more time.
Jason, thank you for your comments and for your interest. The digital restoration in this photo, as in all the other photos in this folder, was limited to removing the unnumerable scratches and fungus spots that eighty years of storage (fifty of which was bad storage, before the plates came to me) had accumulated on the plate. Many smaller marks are still there, but I managed to remove the most obtrusive and unpleasant (which still were in the order of thousands). The cropping, too, was limited to removing the peripheral area of the image with the marks of the plate stops and signs of light leaking in (such as can be seen in the "fishing boat" and "cathedral square" photos in this folder, which I left uncropped). The lightness of the buildings is mainly a consequence of the extreme density of the plate; I guess that these negatives were meant to be printed on very soft paper to control contrast. The photo as you see it is already the result of much dodging and burning, or we would see either even lighter buildings or even darker people. I suppose that also this dodging and burning was standard darkroom practice at that time. As far as I can understand, the main purpose of the photographer was to document various aspects of his town and of everyday life, of which he took the pride quite typical of the period. Surely some "artistic" intention was not extraneous to his choice of subjects and composition, but I must say that he shunned the typical pictorialism so common in his time in photography, and preferred a "neutral" and objective attitude, more respectful of the subjects and closer to modern taste (almost an "ante litteram" f:64 adept). I am really eager of photographic comments on these images, because, although I have often showed them in public exhibitions and published them in books and magazines, the response I invariably elicited was either of the urbanistic-historic kind ("oh, how interesting to see what this town looked like so many years ago...") or of the social-anthropological kind ("look how the social classes were immediately recognizable at that time..."), and the like, but almost never of a purely technical or aesthetical kind. In particular, during the long time spent in classifying, printing, and identifying these photos I have had very little technical feedback on the best way of translating them into modern emulsion, retrieving the rich tonal information they contain, or storing and preserving them, and had to find out most of the answers myself.
Another wonderful found masterpiece. These works must be inspiring for you. I too have tried to draw from the images--especially this one. Thanks so much for sharing.
I dearly love this photo. I prefer to look at it with the top sky portion cropped out leaving only a very small part of the sky where the street comes to an end. This photo is truly a thing of beauty. Thanks for sharing.
Another image from the archive of Michele Salvo Another image from the archive of Michele Salvo, photographer in Sicily between 1900 and 1940. Please see the "fishing boat" photo in the same folder for more information on these ancient photographs and on why I am posting them here. I welcome comments but I don't think that ratings would be appropriate here: I only printed and restored these photographs - the author has been dead for forty years.