X-rays recreated damaged photo

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Madalena Kozachuck discovered, just by chance, that she was able to reproduce a destroyed image from the early 1900s. Kozachuck is a PhD fellow at the University of Western Ontario in Canada. Together with her colleagues, she was rather looking to reveal how the image was destroyed!

The image is made on a metal plate (daguerreotype) and owned by the National Gallery in Canada. They had written the picture off as destroyed and its content lost for posterity.

Kozachuck and her colleagues got a shock when they suddenly saw an anonymous woman staring expressionlessly at them. The mission of the team was in fact not to restore the old picture. Using X-rays they were supposed to map the atoms on the plate and subsequently say something about how the daguerreotype breaks down.

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The assignment therefore received an unexpected bonus. Scientists will in the future now be able to say something about how the daguerreotype can be better preserved for posterity. By means of X-rays they will also be able to recover damaged images of the daguerreotype.

What is daguerreotype?

It was the French artist and chemist Louis Jacques Mandé (1787-1851) who invented and constructed daguerreotype in 1839, the forerunner of modern photography.

” To make the image, a daguerrotypist would polish a sheet of silver-plated copper to a mirror finish, treat it with fumes that made its surface light sensitive, expose it in a camera for as long as was judged to be necessary, which could be as little as a few seconds for brightly sunlit subjects or much longer with less intense lighting; make the resulting latent image on it visible by fuming it with mercury vapor; remove its sensitivity to light by liquid chemical treatment, rinse and dry it, then seal the easily marred result behind glass in a protective enclosure.

The image is on a mirror-like silver surface, normally kept under glass, and will appear either positive or negative, depending on the angle at which it is viewed, how it is lit and whether a light or dark background is being reflected in the metal. The darkest areas of the image are simply bare silver; lighter areas have a microscopically fine light-scattering texture. The surface is very delicate, and even the lightest wiping can permanently scuff it. Some tarnish around the edges is normal. ” (Source: Wikipedia)

The exposure time could vary between 60 to 90 seconds. Throughout all these seconds, the person who was to be depicted had to sit still. The slightest movement could make that part blurred. Often you can see small children somewhat obscure on such old pictures. It was not always easy to explain to them that they had to sit completely still.

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