The way we restore photographs today is quite different to the way images were restored before computers, but the concept remains the same. Some restorations are purely objective; the image has obvious damage with an obvious restoration solution. Spots, tears and scratches are repaired, mould and stains removed and sometimes, the ‘jigsaw’ is pieced back together. On most occassions this is quite straight forward. On others however a more subjective approach to the image is required to first interpret what the original may have looked like and then repair it. Sometimes a little guess work is required.
This was the case with this photograph of Ocean Chelman, presented to me for restoration by his Great Grandaughter Aileen. There are no living relatives who knew Ocean personally so sadly there is no-one we could call upon to describe his features. Instead, we used images of his descendants as a guide (especially for the shape of his nose) and a copy of the image which had previously been restored using traditional methods. I applaud the restoration effort of the original restorer (name unknown). He or she would have had to make a copy negative of the original image, print it then ‘paint’ in the missing details.
My approach was a little different. I first cut my digital copy of the image in half where it was cracked and repositioned the two pieced so they aligned as closely as they could. I enhanced the exposure and repaired those obvious spots, scratches, etc. I then rebuilt his face using texture and luminosity samples from other sections of the image and created new features using burning and dodging techniques, a little like drawing I guess.
Aileen is currently searching archives for more images of Ocean. I am keen to see what she finds. I would love to know how closely we were able to render a likeness. This was definitely a challenge but a most enjoyable one. Thank you for trusting me with your image Aileen.