Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Pictures from the Past Meme

My friends are posting pictures from their past as sort of an internet meme. The original post was by Jeri at Smug Puppies, followed by Janiece at Hot Chicks and Smart Men and Michelle at Random (but not really). It looked like fun.

Last year I spent a couple of months (or longer) restoring a bunch of my mom’s old pictures. It was a hell of a lot of work, but the end results were definitely worth it and let us preserve some family history that otherwise would have been lost.

Some of mom’s pictures were taken from fifty year old negatives that had decayed pretty badly. Others were from thirty to forty year old slide film that had also degraded. Both the kodachrome and Ektachrome slides had red shifted severely. All were scratched. Some had thirty year old fingerprints, which had destroyed the fixative. And all were smoke damaged from a fire at my parents house several years ago.

Each negative or slide had to be scanned into the computer. I used an HP scanjet with an attached Transparent Materials Adapter running at 1200x1200DPI. Since the TMA is not an autofeed model, each slide or negative had to be loaded individually, scanned, and then changed to the next one. There were a lot of slides. Mom did most of the scanning during a Christmas visit to Alaska a couple of years ago.

I then had to push each image through Corel Photo Paint X2 and correct for the redshift, fading, scratches, and whatever other damage existed. It was a long and painstaking process, but Corel Photopaint has a number of tools that make it much easier and can automate some of the process. As I said above the end result was worth the effort.

Here’s an example of the process:

This is a picture of my dad, circa 1961. He’s raking grass seed in front of his then new Corvair. This was right after my folks got married, and they lived in a trailer park in Grandville, Michigan.

car 1 Dad and Corvair (2) Dad and Corvair (3)

The leftmost picture is cropped from the original scan, which was from a damaged negative. Over the years the fixative had faded and oxygen exposure caused the color balance to shift to the red when the picture was converted to a positive. This picture was taken with very early 1960’s film on a Brownie box camera with a fixed focus lens, as a result the original print colors were not true to life and there is some chromatic aberration and focal distortion due to the lens system. The negative was scratched and dirty from the house fire. I used the X2’s fade correction filters, then manually adjusted the color balance using color cards compared to the original colors of that Corvair and the sky. Then I used a combination of tools to remove the scratches and dust. And finally I used a warping tool to correct for the focal distortion. This picture wasn’t damaged nearly as bad as some, which were almost – but not quite - unrecoverable.

Anyway, since I have them online and Jeri, Michelle, and Janiece have posted pictures, I thought I’d share a few with you.

As a Sailor, you can see that I had an affinity for water from a very early age, also I look good in a swim suit and brush cut:

Jimmy and wading pool

When my brother Mike came along, my folks bought a house on Cottonwood Drive, in Jenison. It was a tiny little place, with an enormous yard. See that garage? My dad moved that entire building from down by the road all the way up there next to the house. Also, I want to say that Mike’s little coverall jumper outfit and that fuzzy hair are making me laugh my ass off at the moment – if you knew Mike, you’d laugh too.

Jimmy and Mike in front of Cottonwood house 2

Here’s the Wright boys, Dad, Mike, and me (in the blue shirt) – this picture was taken seconds before we were engulfed by the Great Michigan Tsunami of ‘68, which you can see roaring down on us from behind. Thanks for the warning, Mom. What? Oh, sorry, my mistake, that’s Tahquamenon Falls in Central Lower Peninsula Michigan, which we visited during one of our many, many Michigan camping trips.

Jim, Jimmy, and Mike at Taquamenen Falls

Note: My mom is not in a lot of my childhood pictures, because when she was it meant dad was holding the camera – which meant most of those pictures turned out like this:

Barb on trailer steps 2

Even photoshop can’t do much with those. Dad had serious skills (he moved a whole damned garage right?), but running the camera wasn’t one of them.

Eventually we outgrew the house on Cottonwood and moved to new place on Rosewood – which is where I lived until I graduated from high school. You know, a lot of people my age wax nostalgic for the 70’s and their lost youth – me? Not so much. One look at my dad’s sport coat and I’m good with leaving the 70’s far, far behind.

Jim Wright with Kids in Scout Uniforms

Well, there you have it. That’s it for today. I’ll see if I can dig up a few pictures from my early Navy days for your amusement.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have errands to run.


  1. I think Mike's fuzzy hair is adorable.

    ::ducks and runs::

  2. I knew it!! You WERE a Boy Scout.

    Didya make Eagle?

    Enquiring minds want to know!


  3. No, adorable is exactly the word. Exactly.

    Which is what I'm sure his wife, Melissa, will say.


    Hope you're feeling better today, Mike.

  4. Beautiful work restoring those photos, man! Very, very nice.

    It's kind of funny: it's the opposite of what I usually want to do with the pics I've taken. But I'm thinking it takes a helluva lot more work to make a degraded picture look new than it does to take a new picture and degrade it. The effort shows, too: like I said, nice work.

  5. You did an amazing job Jim!

    I've been trying off and on to restore some of my grandmother's photos. Since they're black and white the main problem is physical damage and even portions of the image being missing.

    It's time consuming work, but your results are fabulous!

  6. Was that the same garage that Mike drove through to avoid hitting the house and the other parked cars?

  7. MWT, no. That was elsewhere. I don't think I've got any pictures of that.

  8. Great photos - and the fuzzy hair is hilarious.

    That's the same type of project I'm in the midst of right now - scanning some 1,000-ish slides (we sorted out 3,000 to discard), restoring and fixing, and then moving on to a couple thousand photos. Any ideas on how to effectively scan a glossy photo printed on linen weave photo paper? Grrr.

    We are using an HP 4800 scanner with a multi-slide tray insert, very handy for slide work, although it doesn't give me quite as much illumination on dark slides as I'd like.

    I have help, though, the geeky 16-year old had a year of college level digital media and has even more photoshop/lightbox experience than I.

  9. Thanks Janiece, I still have the dandelion gone to seed look, it works.

  10. Jim, I'll come to you for advice when I start to go through my old slides. Plus my parents even older slides, which is where most of the childhood photos of me and my brother can be found.

    Oh, and at some point I want to try and move some of the 40-something year old 8mm movies to DVD.

    ok, y'all, quit laughing. Despite me, my brother and his wife all being techie/geeky types, the parental units are of the low-tech variety. I mean, Daddy hit the really big 90 last week.

    OK, have defrosted enough to type, so I guess I'll have to get to work. Hot'lanta not so hot this morning, temps in the teens and windchills around ZERO, if you're lucky.


  11. And she means Dual 8mm, not Super 8, movies. Dual 8 were these 25-foot rolls of double-perf 16mm film which were run through a camera twice, then at the lab sliced lengthwise and splice to make one 50-foot reel of single-perf film. Egads, and we put up with that? (grin)

    Dr. Phil

  12. I forgot to mention that our fathers must have gone to the same school of photography.

    When my cousin got married, all the pictures my dad took were of people without heads.

    Nice clarity on the Navy dress uniforms though.


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