I love watching TV or movies these days when the tech guy zooms in on some satellite view, fuzzy and mottled, then is asked to clarify the image by the protagonist. Bingo, one touch and the license plate, shoe size, and hair color are evident on the monitor. Ah, if only reality were that good.
But, hey, things are getting better. Photoshop and its competitors continue to press the boundaries of what can be done to old, faded, and cracked images. I’m just about to kick myself for throwing away my father’s box titled “Bad Slides.” What is bad these days? Overexposed, color shifted, color balanced film for 3400K incandescent light used outdoors? Hardly anything cannot be corrected.
But, there is one huge issue: HALS standards. Ink on mylar; 4x5 view camera; original documents only, please. I’ve been there and heard all of these. But, there is a danger in that. And, I have an example. Some years ago, a neighbor gave me glass slides taken for the local garden club in the late 1920s or early 1930s, along with an ancient projector with which to view them. I converted them to 35mm slides, which wasn’t easy in the days before high quality scanners. I lit them from the front and rear, as both sides contained image and hand painted color. Thus, I had a small copy of the original. Pooh pooh, you say? Cannot possibly be worth much, as the original is still the altar to which we must pledge obedience.
But there I was, some 20 years later, talking to another landscape researcher who was showing me how he had scanned the same glass slide, and was looking for some appreciation of the effort to which he had gone and the results that he had achieved. It was all good, except for one very important detail. The intervening years had not been kind to the original.
Cracked image originally taken for the
Swarthmore Garden Club
It had broken, and when it had, glass fragments took away some of the image and dirt was able to compound the damage. So, I went to my small slide, which I then scanned, and came up with an image that, although it was a product of a copy of the original, was a much better representation of the early 20th century scene (see image below).
Repaired image courtesy of William Menke
So, when it comes to files, a little backup is always worth the effort.
Bill Menke, ASLA, is co-principal of Menke and Menke, Landscape Architects and Planners, in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.