Very cool work being done to recover damaged documents using Photoshop. (National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis)
Photoshop often gets a bad rap when it comes to doctoring photos but this post from our colleagues in Preservation shows how it can play a crucial role in recovering some vitally important documents. (Literally — these records can be the key to often urgent and essential veterans’ benefits.)
Now You See It
Nearly 40 years after the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, work continues on the preservation of the fire-damaged records (affectionately known as the B-Files). This work takes place at our St. Louis Preservation office, and includes both conservation and reformatting of the documents.
At first, you may think that the written information located in the heavily burned area is unrecoverable. But with the use of Adobe Photoshop we can manipulate a digital image of the burned document to accentuate subtle differences in tones and make the burned area readable.
Our Reformatting Lab is in the planning stages of a project that will use infrared sensing cameras to photograph burned documents. It will be less labor intensive than the Photoshop process and will produce better quality images.
the evolution of photography as an art form
It’s been a while since my last update. It’s not been because I haven’t been taking any photos, though. Film has dominated a lot of my photography as of late, and I have not yet had a chance to scan the negatives to share here.
It’s been amazing to me how much time it takes to create a photograph in the darkroom. The processes of using filters to play to contrast, dodging and burning, cropping, enlarging, etc., which take seconds in Photoshop, can consume hours in the darkroom. I am so used to instant results, from viewing a photograph on the LCD of my camera to seeing the effects of image editing (not to mention the ever-powerful command-z), that I have gained immense respect and admiration for those who made their living in film photography. What an amazing art form that is slowly fading from our experience.
The digital revolution has made photography more accessible to the masses, however, and for that I cannot complain. Last week, the New York Times ran an article about the decline of professional photography. Advances in digital media have allowed anyone with the will and desire to produce images worthy of trade on the consumer level. Stock photography is rapidly replacing commissioned pieces, reducing the field of those who might refer to themselves as photographers amidst a simultaneous explosion in the collection of people who are engaged in the art of photography.
But today’s photographic art differs from that of yesterday. My own lack of experience in this media limits what I may contribute to the next step of this conversation, but I sense great loss as this field experiences its own rebirth (I feel that there is something to my writing this on Easter Sunday). Photography today rewards those with technical savvy, the ability to digitally manipulate images, and the ability to press and hold a button. Whereas composition, anticipation, and perfection ruled the roost, autofocus, continuous shooting, and a whole host of auto-functions make photography a thoughtless task for most. We are at a point where many people hold the thought that “anyone can do this” and if that really is the case, is there less value placed on photography as an art form?