Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Discoveries and tough decisions

Sometimes the most important things are tucked away in archival corners. This is the aftermath at Wounded Knee. The bibliographic notes say "U.S. soldiers amid scattered debris of camp", but I wondered at the size of those piles. Why had the tipi sides been taken down, but blankets left on the snow? Regardless of what was there, this is an important historic scene and a high resolution file. So I downloaded and started work on it.

Most of the images in this post come from the current partial restoration. Here's one from the original file that demonstrates the usual challenge of cleaning out creases and dirt: a small sample of the sky. This is in pretty good shape for photography over 100 years old; everything collects a few problems over time. Sky is usually a good thing to start on; deciphering sky is relatively easy. Worked down from there, saw a tin cup or two in the snow. Then something else.

A shoe. Two shoes. They looked like they were still being worn. The way to find out is to scroll to the right and slightly downward.

A hand. Then a face. There were at least three bodies in the foreground, all partially covered with blankets. Probably four. More piles farther off, the right size and shape.

It's the sort of scene that makes one stop and think. Is it respectful to work on this? Someone someday will probably take this the wrong way, but this is history. It happened. It's important to document these things. So after hard thought I decided to continue the restoration.

It's quite a responsibility. And it makes the choices harder.

Knowing a fair amount about image restoration doesn't make a person an expert in forensics. Very near the bodies there's an unusual spot pattern that seems to follow the contours of the snow. Is that photographic degradation or is it blood? I'm going to make my best guesses with this image, but frankly they're guesses. If some of it comes out wrong there ought to be an effective way of correcting the mistakes. This is one of the days when I wish the Wikimedia Foundation had more restorationists--someone to turn to with greater expertise. So here's one argument for a separate restoration wiki. Someday we may get a forensics expert on board, and when that day comes it'll be very useful to have an archive of interim saves.

2 comments:

Adam said...

The dots convincingly follow the lumps in the snow. I think they're authentic.

Matthew Field said...

I agree, I think they are in the original scene