Miss Amanda Fish

victorian photographI love the aesthetics of old photographs, the careful poses, the natural light, even the soft decay of an image.  I sometimes collect other peoples orphaned ancestors via online auctions – old photos adrift from family albums, rich in costume detail, hinting at lives beyond the camera.

This tiny tintype is, according to the back, Miss Amanda Fish.  She would probably not have been a dazzling beauty even in her own time, but she has made a heroic effort to present herself to best advantage, wearing elaborate earrings, a velvet bow with a brooch, and a top with fancy shiny buttons.  

Her gaze is wonderfully intent.  Was she having her portrait taken to give as a gift to some special man or woman?  I’ll probably never know (nothing showed up with a quick online search anyway), but I can enjoy speculating.

Miss Fish may well make her way into a drawing or painting sometime soon.

Old postcards – Anita, The Living Doll, Ruby Westwood

Anita the Living DollThe freakshow mentality has long outlived the literal freakshow.  Now we look at people who are other than the norm safely from our living rooms, in faux scientific documentaries or reality TV shows.   Like our Victorian ancestors we are frightened and thrilled, and fascinated and enchanted and entertained by strangeness.   Fat, thin, lost or won the genetic lottery, born strange or deliberately making themselves strange: we celebrate and objectify people on the margins.

I can’t help admiring people like the Schappell sisters, who manage to create good lives for themselves, despite an incredibly tough start and challenges that would daunt most.   And I can’t help fretting about parents who make their children into fascinating freaks (perversity  I am complicit in I confess).

I love the aesthetics of early photography, and occasionally indulge myself buying old postcards and photos.   With studio portraits of entertainers there is often an interesting tale to be tracked down – online newspaper archives such as Papers Past (in New Zealand) and Trove (in Australia) are wonderful places to browse and be distracted for hours. Continue reading

Restoring old photographs

Lady with a drawer

I love the aesthetics of old photographs – especially the early ones where the photographer was using natural, uncertain light, and the subject is in their best formal clothes, holding a pose for an unnatural length of time.   I like twisting and reusing the images in my own work,  but a minor pleasure is ‘rediscovering’ the original image in an abandoned damaged old photo.  And by abandoned, I mean sold on Trademe or ebay for a few dollars.

One challenge of using all those wonderful Photoshop tools is balancing cleaning up with losing the original texture  – I’m want my result to still look old, with the character preserved, but with details of hair and clothing revealed.

This time I mainly used the healing spot and patch tools, cleaning up the dust and mildew marks, and various odd little scratches on a copy of the original layer (which I protected and kept at the bottom of the layer stack). I then created copies of the cleaned layer and blended them using overlay and multiply modes, trying different ones, fading the effect, until it looked right.  Finally, for a few bits I zoomed right in and gently used the dodge and burn tools with a very soft brush, and at very low density.

This example is perhaps 95% finished (as I’m not trying to make it look new), I’ll leave it for now, and see how it looks in a week or two.