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Monday, December 30, 2013

Old Photos and New Portraits

Well, having accomplished my two other goals this morning, I am now ready to blog away. 

Goal number one was to explain to my son what sex is because he has been playing a game called Sims Freeplay in which, after two characters fall in love, there is an option for him to have them 'woohoo.' They get all blurry and it's not like you can see anything happening, but he wanted to know what woohoo was. So I told him in a very matter of fact way - the whole discussion took about a minute (including his question about whether or not his father and I had ever done anything so gross…answer: of course not - you were a virgin birth…) It wasn't nearly as difficult as I had expected, I had been dreading having this conversation but it turns out it's just not that difficult to explain and they really just aren't that interested in knowing anything in particular about it. So, we just ended with me saying that if he ever had any questions about any of it he should feel free to ask and that one day when he felt like doing something like that, he should make sure that he knows all about pregnancy and other related things so he could make the best decision. Whew.

Goal number two was to get my daughter off the computer because she was playing muffin games. There is this fantastic website www.muffinfilms.com that my brother showed us a couple of years ago that has really cute videos and a couple of interactive games on it. It was made for a thesis project by an animation student and it's bizarrely addictive. It has some sayings and cadences that have just become part of the way our family talks to each other. You [oh member of my vast readership] should check it out.

So, having gotten her off the computer and, albeit briefly, outside. She is now taking a bath so we can move on to my other goal which is to take her picture in an artificial setting with artificial lighting. She is such a willing subject and relatively uninhibited, so I can get her to jump up and down or hang upside down or hold a rat or whatever I want to try all while shining hot lights on her in a cold room. I did a practice run yesterday in that same cold room with my husband who is incredibly patient. He has these floodlights that he uses for construction when he is working at night. They are really bright and the room isn't that large, so there were limited options with the lights, but since I had never tried taking pictures with an artificial lighting setup before (except for once when I shined…shone?…shined?…shindeded? a flashlight on Pepe's face for a couple of shots). I think I learned some things from the exercise yesterday and am pleased with the way a couple of the portraits turned out. He's such a handsome guy but usually I can't get pictures of him that look as good as he does, but he was really natural yesterday since I wasn't asking him to pose, just to sit around while I took pictures. 

One of the things that I have found very interesting about the photographs in the 20th century photography book has been that strong, directional lighting in the really intense portraits. It doesn't give you as much detail sometimes, but it reveals more of the structure and a lot more of the character of the sitter. Sometimes it's hard to not just make everything in perfect focus with even lighting because it's possible, but that would be letting myself just default to a technical possibility rather than making a conscious creative decision.

Another project I am working on is restoring a bunch of really old photographs of my great-great-great grandparents and other damaged family photos. Some of them are amazingly clear while others there seems to be hardly any detail that was captured at all. I'm just kind of blundering through doing this because I don't really know how to make the photos look new again. They certainly do look better once I've done with them than they did to start with, but I wish I could do more. I have been very impressed by some of the antique photos that artists have taken and colorized so that they look like photos that could have been taken yesterday. 

Here are some of the before and after images from the photos I have been working on:

My great-aunt Daisy when she was a baby (obviously). This was a hard picture to work with because there wasn't any good detail in her dress or her chin. I'm still not happy with the chin, but at least her hands are visible and the giant spots are off her face. 

My great-great grandfather Jacob P. Hummel who worked for the railroad right up until he died. In fact, this picture was taken when he was 82, about 2 weeks before he died in 1916. This picture didn't have much damage, just some facing and loss of detail, but it came out pretty well.

This is my great-great-grandmother Sarah Hummel (wife of Jacob P. above), another photo without significant damage, more just fading and some spotting. I was able to really punch up her dress and bring the presence back to the photo, so I'm pretty pleased with it.