The Copyist: Resurrecting Old Negatives

The Copyist: Resurrecting Old Negatives

The Copyist was taken in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, in 1991. I prefer using available light which in this case was a mix of fluorescent and heavily overcast daylight. The painter is reproducing Women Ironing by Degas.

At the time I took this picture, I was under the mistaken impression that the painters working in the Orsay were students learning the style of the Impressionists. It was only much later that I discovered that copyists have a long honored tradition. (1)

When I located the negative for this image I discovered that, despite my best efforts at protective storage, the film was covered with a mildew of some type. Here is an image made from the damaged negative.

The Copyist from dirty negative

My first attempt at restoration was to gently wipe the film strip with an Ilford Anti-Static Cloth. This had no effect. The dirt/mildew was in the form of a hard crust that appeared to be imbedded in the emulsion.

I realized that I needed to clean the film using Edwal Anti Stat Film Cleaner.

  1. I began by dipping the film strip in water at room temperature.
    This softened the emulsion.
  2. Next, I slipped the film strip, emulsion side up, into a shallow bath of the Edwal.
    I gently rocked the bath of cleaner back and forth so that it washed over the emulsion.
  3. I pulled the film from the cleaner and shook it to remove most of the fluid.
  4. Last, gently wiped the film strip dry with a soft lint free cloth: a scrap from an old t-shirt.
  5. I laid the film strip emulsion side up on a clean sheet of paper and let it air dry for a few minutes.

When the film was dry I scanned it using a Nikon Super Cool Scan 5000 ED and saved the image as a TIF file. I turned off the ICE spot removal software because it tends to soften the image, i.e. less sharpness.

The resulting image file was significantly cleaner. However, I would still need several hours of spot and scratch removal before the image was ready for the rest of the editing that I wanted to do.

The result was satisfactory for today but I need to find a better way to clean negatives, in particular, how I can avoid scratching the emulsion. Perhaps using a soft fine hair brush to remove the dirt while the film is in the cleaner would do the trick, rather than wiping with the soft cloth.

 (1) Never say `fake’. Forget `forgery’. It’s got to be `copy’ or `pastiche’; Iain Gale;
The Independent; 09/05/1995

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