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...the paper its printed on

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  • ...the paper its printed on

    What is it that's valuable about a photograph? Is it the physical thing itself? Or is it the image?

    If its the old paper, all the digital restoration in the world is worthless. And restoring the original, even successfully, would ruin it.

    If it's not the old paper (or tin, or glass, or whatever), if its the image, wouldn't a digital restoration be more valuable than the original?

    When I first started this site (almost a year ago, can you believe it?) I sent out all sorts of shameless plugs to anyone I thought would be interested. I emailed every website I found, every e-list I came across. I posted relentlessly to every usenet newsgroup with even the most remote connection to old images.

    The results I got surprised me. They surprised me in many ways, but the one relevant surprise here is that I got no interested responses from collectors or antique groups. Zero. Nothing. I even had very low success trolling antique shops in person, looking for Challenge material.

    To me this indicated they found the paper to be the valuable part. A restoration would be worthless to them. This surprised me because it never even occured to me that it might not be the images that were important. A damaged photo was trash, and discarded as such.

    This disregard for the image still amazes me. I find the old casings and studio cards interesting, but ultimately I find them irrelevant. Even inconvenient. This doesn't mean I don't respect them, but to me they're secondary...or less.

    All I care about is what the light wrote so very long ago. And restoring that frozen shadow from the past.
    Learn by teaching
    Take responsibility for learning

  • #2
    Doug wrote:

    All I care about is what the light wrote so very long ago. And restoring that frozen shadow from the past.

    That is beautiful, Doug. I read it aloud and was moved. You spoke for many of us.



    • #3
      Totally in agreement there - with both of you!

      Doug, your words are beautiful and poetic! Surely what we treasure about photographs (young or old) is the memories that they convey?


      • #4
        I agree with you Doug...
        For me it is all about the image. The history. It is great to save the original of course... but I want an image to hang on the wall in any room in any light for decoration and conversation. I have a hundred year old picture of my Great Grandparents in a neat rounded glass frame but cannot display it except in the back bedroom that gets no light. That is no fun! I made copies for all my relatives and we can now display in the real light! I haven't had one client that cared about the paper...they just want the memories to display.
        That is very interesting that you got no responce from the antique/collector world. That really suprises me! I am going to be talking to some antiques shops in town this week and will be fun to see how they react to my restoration portfolio...I won't be to disapointed if I don't get good feedback, I will remember this thread!


        • #5
          Like you Doug I I have trolled the antique shops her in Australia with similar results. I have been told that when the antique dealers buy deceased estates photos are of very little interest to them. Sometimes if the album is particularly nice they will remove and discard all the photos and sell the album. One dealer told me that the only people interested in the photos are the family (if any) but most times that interest is low.


          • #6
            I had many antique dealers tell me that they simply toss torn or faded photos. One told me his triumphant tale of selling several hundred large glass negatives to a small furniture manufacturer that used them (after stripping) as insets for coffee tables. Another, an old man who ran a wonderful type of shop that I mean absolutely no disparagement in calling a "junk shop", said that when he gets photos he sells them to "the paper guy". Evidently there's a trade in old paper goods that attracts specialists. I don't, however, think the paper guy resells them. I think he uses the antique fibers in specialty papermaking or some other craft.

            When I left that particular shop I was sad. First of all I'm always sad when I shop for old photos. How does Aunt Gertie's wedding portrait, or great-grandpa's last picture before he was killed in the Great War, end up getting sold to an antique store? But to have the further insult, if their journey from then to now left them in less than pristine condition, of being tossed out or ground up for fiber...that makes me sad just to type it.

            So, what is a memory worth that has no one left to remember it?
            Learn by teaching
            Take responsibility for learning


            • #7
              I feel the same way, as probably the majority of us at this site do, but then we're all interested into restoration. I would be curious to hear from people outside this group.

              I've also spoken with a few antique dealers, who have stacks of old photos (piled on top of each other), who have no other interest but making money. I asked one of the dealers, who was charging $3.50 a photo, who are the customers? He told me that sometimes it becomes "fashionable" to have old photos".

              There are quite a few "antique photo" rings out on the net. I wonder how they determine their pricing, as some of them are quite expensive? And who are their customers? The only thing that comes to my mind, would be stock agencies. Most of the people I know are only interested in their own family photos.


              • #8
                An excellent book on collecting photographs is "Collector's Guide to Early Photographs" by O. Henry Mace. Avaliable at Amazon thru the link on this site.
                It is just my opinion, but to me the value of old Photos lies in two areas. The original as an historic process artifact, that is, as an example of a strictly physical process and second, the pictorial data it contains. The beauty of digital is that the pictorial data can be safely grabbed, stored and formatted for distribution via many different formats in a highly accurate manner. The real treasure is what is depicted, the frozen moment of history and time which allows us to peak through the keyhole of the ages and glimpse details of a past many speculate about but never may see. Details like clothing and hair styles, machinery, furniture styles, Room decoration, what type of carpet was popular way back when.... the list is almost endless. The emotions and memories evoked cant be measured in a dollar value...the only measure applicable is that of humanitys value, its trials, triumphs and quiet reflective moments during which the camera was present to capture the, death, everything that we are and even what we strive to be. In short, I think it is not the original or the copy which has value, but what these depict. Tom


                • #9
                  I think we touched on something like this in a thread that Tom started not too long ago.

                  I certainly agree with Tom when he says it's what the image stands for. I have a daguerreotype that I copied, and I could certainly make the restoration look much better than the original. BUT -- I would *much* rather have the original if I had to make a choice between them. To me, it's the historical value (not the monetary value) that makes it so interesting. The portrait is interesting in itself, but it's just not the same as having the original speciman.

                  I also have an old camera, where the exposure was controlled by moving a sliding "lid" that consisted of different size holes. This is how the aperture was set. It probably doesn't have much monetary value, but it has a special place in my heart because of the historical significance.



                  • #10
                    I wonder if 100 years from now old VHS tapes will have a similar fate as some old photographs?

                    I find it amazing that some people have absolutely no regard or interest in the past. The photograph has become the container of our history and our memories. Anyone who has seen the photos in the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C. can realize the power of a photograph to bring us face to face with history. What if no record of that event survived? Would the memory of it fade? If that were to happen we would have failed as humans.

                    The good news, I guess, is that there is a small but growing trend of rediscovering one's past. Things like scrapbooks, genealogy, folk tales, etc... are all becoming very popular. Perhaps people are begining to realize that life is very short and fragile and photographs are often the only things left behind.


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