Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Darwin Day

The other day Ragesoss showed up at my user talk with a reminder that Darwin Day happens next month: the two hundredth anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth. Could we have a featured picture for the occasion?

I'm a sucker for that kind of request.

When it comes to online image archives for that kind of purpose, the Library of Congress website has everybody else beat hands down. Site architecture is chaotic, things can be hit or miss, but when they get it right they really get it right in a way nobody else does. Because what's needed for this kind of endeavor is a hefty TIFF file made from a well-curated original on a really good clean scanner.

A lot of people who don't do restoration come along with an 80K file and expect something to be accomplished with it. Sorry: I can't restore information that isn't there. 2MB is about the minimum, and that's pushing it. 10MB is more like it. I don't call a file large until it's at least 100MB, and one of the images in my current workpile is over half a gigabyte.

The Library of Congress knows how to create and host this sort of material. Also wonderful: they don't try to claim proprietary control over information that's in the public domain (a surprising number of museums and archives do assert such claims, but that's a story for a different day). So after trotting over to the photographs collection and running a search, a serviceable rotograph turns up at a decent 23MB. Here's the page. Not the most famous likeness, but the technical quality is far better than is likely available anywhere else.

Five or so hours later the restoration was complete. Practice makes this sort of work go quickly. The full sized restoration is a nearly 5MB JPEG file (Wikimedia software doesn't allow for TIFF uploads) and available here. It's enjoyable to be able to help out in an event as important as Darwin Day.

Yet it's a shame that for such an iconic figure of British science, the best source for a portrait is a foreign archive. Surely British archives have better quality original images. This is their heritage, their history. I wish more countries brought their collections into the digital age the way the Library of Congress has been doing.


David Shankbone said...

As far as archived images go, and their restoration, you are the maestro.

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