Monday, January 18, 2010

The cabinet secretary's chin

A Wikipedia administrator who goes by the username Wehwalt has contributed a lot of featured articles about historic politics.  He's one of the reasons Wikipedia's biographies of Neville Chamberlain and Nikita Krushchev are as good as they are.  The portrait at right is lead illustration at another of Wehwalt's featured articles. Franklin Knight Lane was United States Secretary of the Interior during Woodrow Wilson's presidency.

Wehwalt and I were discussing a possible restoration on an image from one of his articles.  Something unexpected turned up last night when I saw the full resolution version of Lane's portrait.  This doesn't happen every day: it looks like a crude job of retouching tried to hide a double chin.

Notice how the dark marks begin just below his actual chin line although it's obvious that the actual skin in that area and below the side of his jaw is not in shadow.

So here's an invitation: you help me decide.  Should I restore Mr. Secretary Lane's original double chin or should I complete the retouching properly?  Normally I don't try to make encyclopedic subjects more handsome than they actually are, but this alteration looks historic.

My inclination is to reconstruct the original chin (both of them).  Yet I'm really curious what you think.

Either way, here's hoping you chuckle as much as my friends did.  There's nothing like a little bit of vanity even if it's 97 years old.


bernie moran said...

What an interesting find! This is certainly a peculiar addition to a nearly century old portrait. My two cents: restore it its original, unaltered form. I want to see the man as he was, in all of his double-chinned glory!

Thanks for sharing.

George Radu said...

Interesting... Since we are taking about a restoration; I say restore it if possible. But it brings up and interesting question: To restore something you have to know what is was before... e.g. if all you have is the current jpg, how do you know what the double chin looked like? If you have a photoshop file where layers were used to correct the double chin, then no problem. There is a general issue here... when restoring, in some cases you are really creating content, e.g. what was really under the big scratch?

Lise Broer said...

Actually I avoid working with JPEGs whenever possible due to their tendency to degrade. The source file for this restoration is a 159 MB 16 bit TIFF file, which had to be converted to 8 bit due to the limitations of Wikimedia Foundation software.

The retouching on this image did not completely obliterate the underlying skin: enough of it remains to infer the shape and contour, particularly in the context of the directional lighting.

George Radu said...

Yes, I understand the use of TIFF rather than lossy compression JPGs. I could not see enough of the image to tell anything about the chin. What do you think about my other point? What if the secretary had a scar that was being erased in the previous edit? Regardless of how much you can see, you would still be creating new content, right?

Rosemildo Sales Furtado said...

Acho que deve restaurar. Isso, se tiveres subidios que te propicie a restauração.



Lise Broer said...

The thing that makes it possible to restore this is that the retouching doesn't completely cover the area. Especially near the edges the alteration is very incomplete and a lot of skin shows through. That reveals the contours by the shape of the shadows.

If the skin had a large scar on the concealed area it would buckle the skin in ways that alter how the light falls near the scar. The shape of the alterations is indicative of an attempt to produce a sharper jawline, rather than an attempt to hide a scar.

Several other photographs of Lane from the same era reveal a pronounced double chin and no scar.

In particular, this 1919 portrait gives a good view of the underside of his chin across the same area damaged in this version.

George Radu said...

Thanks. Makes sense to search out other photos of the subject in question... I found this one that shows a double chin... He looks older in this photo.

Lise Broer said...

That one seated at the desk was taken at roughly the same time as the formal potrait. The Library of Congress dates the formal portrait to 1913, and the desk portrait to 1910-1915.

Ed T. said...

Definitely restore the original! It doesn't make the man less of anything, but more real.. It should be about truth, if nothing else.

Erin O'Brien said...

When I croak, if someone wants to skim a few pounds off me, I'm all for it. I say let the old guy sail minus a chin.

It might score you a karma point or two.

Lise Broer said...

You're the first one to say that so far. It's very kind of you and it even makes me laugh. Thank you for the input. :)