A photo restorer takes old photographs whose negatives have long-since vanished, fixed up the original print, and then makes duplicates of the original for the owner. This is, as he explained to an elderly couple who walked through the door with half a dozen prints -- including two tintypes dating from the Civil War era -- a complicated process.
First the original must be cleaned off and touched up. Then a copy negative has to be made -- the original print must be photographed to provide a negative. Then the reprints must be made from the copy negative. Finally, the reprints must be touched up and toned to give them that final, aged look.
There's got to be a better way. Eight bucks for a copy neg. Eight bucks for each reprint. Maybe the president of Chase Manhattan can afford to have his priceless heirlooms copied that way.But how about an honest, hard-working person like me?
I have a few photos lying around thatI wouldn't mind having copies of: photos from photographers long since departed. Photos that once had negatives but now are original works of art. Buthow to copy them quickly and cheaply, without resorting to special lighting, bellows, or macro lenses? That was perplexing.
Then I remembered a fun project a long time ago. Using a Polaroid Alpha-One SX-70 camera, I photographed some World War II money -- currency and coin -- and was surprised at how well the resulting photo turned out. Why not another photo -- this one of a photo? So out came the Alpha-One. The results were surprisingly good. And certainly faster than anticipated -- especially considering the nature of the instant film. No processing time was lost. Mistakescould be rectified and the results reviewed immediately. Instant gratification.
First, I loaded the camera and mounted it on a copy stand. You could just as easily use a tripod or anything that will hold the camera a fixed distance from the floor or table withoutwobbling.
I looked around for a strong light source. Since I was photographing a black-and-white print, I settled on a tungsten studio light, but it could have been anything from a desk lamp to abattery-powered lantern. The key is to place the light so that it illuminates the print to be copied without harsh glare, which would show up on the copy.
Next, I laid the print on the copy stand, weighted down the edges so it was perfectly flat; focused, composed, and focused again. Then, holding my breath and crossing my fingers, I snapped the shutter.
With a loud whizz-whirr, the Sx-70 print crawled out of the camera. The print was upside down. The wider whitebottom edge of the SXC-70 film was on the top when I viewed the print. Ifixed that by turning the print to be copied 180 degrees on the board, so thatthe image appeared upside down through the viewfinder.
The square format of the sx-70 film means some cropping must take place when copying a horizontal original. But most photos can benefit from a little cropping -- it won't destroy them.
Finally, the smaller the original print to be copied, the more difficult it is to fill the frame with the print. Since the Alpha-One focuses to 10 inches, a small amount of border space appeared around the outer edge of the smallest prints copied. This was remedied by attaching an accessory closeup lens (available from Polaroid dealers) to the camera. I could also have placed the original print in a mat to have minimized the distraction.
So what did the final copied print look like? Better than expected. There was some small loss of sharpness and some loss of detail in the shadow areas -- to be expected. There was also some vignetting and distortion around the edges of the copy -- also predictable. The tungsten light combined with the daylight-balanced SX-70 film to produce a very warm, nearly sepia tone to the copies, adding to their charm.
To get full-color copies of color originals, you would have to use either a daylight-balanced light source (like electronic flash) or the sun or bright reflected light outdoors around noon.
Obviously, the technique is not for everyone. And it's not suggested as an alternative to high-quality professionally produced copy prints available from a copy negative. It's just a way of having a little fun -- and preserving a bit of the past.