11.19.2015

Restoration Baltimore: 1947 in Color (Part 1)

Anyone who follows this page with any degree of regularity knows that I completely love vintage color slides of scenes taken around the 1940's and 1950's.  

And many know that I've a certain fondness for scenes in and around my hometown of Baltimore.

But what few people may know is just how tough it is to find original color slides taken in the Monumental City amid the heyday of these decades.  It seems one can readily find original color slides of big cities such as Chicago and New York, while one can also find many scenes of small town life with some searching.  I've managed to assemble an interesting collage of images spanning all the way from California to Florida, and from Montana to Texas.

But still, original scenes of my hometown in color have been terribly elusive.  I've managed at times to find a few, such as from atop Federal Hill, near the Harbor Tunnel, and along the city's streetcar lines, but slice of life scenes of Downtown in color have been all but non-existent.

And then there they were.  Five scenes taken in Baltimore on original color slides, and available for auction.  I dug in, placed my bid and won these rare images.  Finally, I had some shots of Charm City similar to those I'd feature weekly on my Kodachrome features.

But the only problem is that they weren't Kodachromes.  These were taken on much more unstable Ansco stock, and the color had shifted pretty drastically.  In addition, the emulsion had signs of serious damage from the decades.  Making these images into something presentable would require me to try to use most of the tricks I had learned about scanning and restoring images.  These would require significant time and effort, but I felt they were worth it.  

Below are two of the results of this restoration project, showing an unrestored original scan, and the final results below, as well a street view inlay to show what the viewpoint looks like today.  I hope you feel these were as worth the effort as I did.   




The above image was arguably in the "best" shape of the batch of five shots, and was my first attempt to restore.  Even so, I had to liberally use tools to remove spots, smudges, and other nasty additions to the scene while trying as best I could to use the limited color information in the image to restore some semblance of accuracy in the tones.  Even still, the result looks a little too pastel in nature, particularly with the blue in the sky and the rose hue on the building to the left of center. 

This scene looks eastward on Fayette Street from Park Avenue, and has changed significantly since this image was taken.  Only the building at absolute left remains, while another older building remains in the distance, but seems to have been obscured by other structures in the original scene. Near this spot, an alley way behind the Shoe Repairing sign traced the original path of the road to Washington DC, and today that path has been obliterated by urban redevelopment; in this case, a hotel. 



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While the first image was not exactly easy to make respectable, the second image was many times tougher.  Intricate in its details across the frame, it had significant degradation issues that needed correcting.  The tough thing was that it was among my favorites of the batch for its content, including a streetcar scene and one of my favorite iconic Baltimore buildings in the backdrop,  It also helped spell out a clearer idea of the timeframe of these undated slides.  It shows a scene a block south of the above one along Baltimore Street.  The 16 line streetcar that prevails in the scene would have vanished after mid-1948, which leaves me to guess this image to be from around 1947 or so.  Have a look at the before, after. and final versions. 

Using the "Restore Color" option on the scanning software did a lot of the toughest work, but it hardly solved the problems these photos had incurred over the decades.  Above is a scan of how the slide image initially looked, with the first generation of the restored version below.  However, there were still a LOT of problems with it to remedy.  A judicious use of patching and cloning tools, as well as a crop of the unneeded lower area helped move the project futher along to the final version seen in the third image, underneath the one below.   



Again, not quite a true to life rendition, but much more pleasing to the eye than the original scan.  The scene today is much changed, as seen below.  The Baltimore Trust Building looms nicely in the backdrop, but the retail district has long since vanished, replaced largely with bigger office buildings and a hotel.  



There are still a couple more images from the set that I haven't yet had the nerve to try to restore.  The second of the two images from this first batch was quite enough for now for me to want to take a break from the photo restoration attempts for a bit.  Still stay tuned though, as there is more to come!