Glorious Negative Information

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House Of Refuge, Randall’s Island, NY, Machine Shop Feb. 25, 1911 by Lewis Hine. I derived this image from a 1,200 dpi scan of its original 8x10 inch glass plate negative. The image is part of Hine’s series “ Randall’s Island.” Post processing included some scratch/stain removal, selective curve adjustment, and exaggerated rendering of shadow detail.
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Here is my digital approximation of a simple contact proof print of Hine’s original negative.


These days it is easy to tease meaningful content from the shadows of antique negatives – much of it, practically invisible or at least difficult to view in contemporaneous vintage prints. Traditional darkroom craftsmanship may yield a beautiful continuous tone image, especially with superb negatives such as the one used to prepare the digital positive at the top of this post. But a decent digital scan and moderate use of a tool like Photoshop make it easy to pull forward a clear view of image information that would have been difficult or impossible to discern by traditional means. By the way, there’s no suggestion here of essential value greater than the product of traditional darkroom print production. The market for vintage photographs would show that an 8x10 contact print of this machine shop photograph by Hine would be precious indeed.

A note on the discovery of old negatives:

A few years ago, the discovery of a dusty box full of old photographic negatives created a challenging obligation at best – at worst, an unacceptable burden relegated to basement or dump. An underfunded regional library or historical society could be the recipient of photo negatives in the way that homeless kittens are delivered to an animal shelter. The owner may not have the resources to view the image content, not to mention the wherewithal to print or archive the images.

So I am thinking that the historic negative’s darkest day has passed. Digital scanning is so available and inexpensive that wet and messy chemical photography no longer impedes salvation of these historic artifacts.


 One More Example of Shadow Detail in a Lewis Hine Negative:

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Steel mill workers From Lewis Hine’s Pittsburgh Survey project 1907-08. I derived this positive image from a 1,200 dpi scan of its original 5x7 inch nitrocellulose sheet film negative. Post processing included some scratch/stain removal, selective curve adjustment, and exaggerated rendering of shadow detail.

198502270008-lq.jpg
Here is my digital approximation of a simple contact proof print of Hine’s original negative.

 
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