By Kassie Williams
With the world so focused on digital technologies, it’s easy to forget how things used to be. Back before the craze of digital cameras, pictures were developed from photo negatives. These negatives, however, were very sensitive to moisture. The slightest bit of humidity could ruin the negative, destroying any chance that the photograph might be enjoyed by future generations.
George Landon, a professor of computer science at Eastern, has embarked on a project in which he hopes to find a way to restore photograph negatives tarnished by moisture.
And his work received a nice windfall recently: Landon was awarded a $100,000 grant to help him continue his research.
The grant, called the Digitization and Virtual Restoration of Deteriorating Photographic Materials, was awarded to him by the National Science Foundation. The money will help fund Landon’s work over the next 18 months. And he’ll be assisted by three undergraduate computer science students on the project: Adam Fowler, Daniel Huster and Shea Rembold.
They’ll be working in the building and research and consulting center on the fourth floor of the Wallace Building.
The process for restoring negatives that have been corrupted by water damage is a relatively new one, Landon said. In years past, the restoration of negatives involved either a high-quality camera taking a still image of the negative or a costly and time consuming process of chemically flattening the negative.
Now, technology has ushered in a new method, one that scans the negatives using a video camera and catches how the light is viewed through the negative as it is scanned. This allows for the images to be recorded and pieced together so that a new negative can be formed, Landon said.
“I am super excited about this project,” said Daniel Huster, one of the students assisting on the project. “After the first few meetings and getting to work on some of the preliminary stuff I strongly feel that there is a lot of potential within this project. I am hoping for some good results.”
Though the science is inexact, it does allow crumpled negatives damaged by water to be digitally flattened and viewed.
Many of the techniques used is this restoration are similar to those employed by film makers and special effects gurus when they generate graphics for movies. But the process, Landon said, “has more value than just Hollywood.”
For example, consider all the old photographic negatives taken during wars or at other important points in U.S. or even world history. So many of those are used in textbooks or documentaries, offering a glimpse of what life were like during an earlier era.
With this new experimental method, old photographic negatives that have been damaged could be restored, perhaps shedding light on many untold stories of our nation’s history.