Monday, January 19, 2009

Scanning Too Well

Martin Luther King Jr's of those holidays, as opposed to Holidays, at least in South Dakota. State government offices are closed, but a lot of businesses and some schools are open. I guess that's not too surprising; as I mentioned in the past .......

According to the last census, there are 4685 black/African American people in South Dakota, putting them as a minority group in a virtual tie for third with Asians,well behind Native Americans and Hispanics. It is still quite possible to grow up here and never meet a live black person. When you talk race relations here, it almost always involves Native Americans.

I know King's work resonated beyond African-Americans, but his core constituency has never had much presence here.

On another topic, Andrew Sullivan pointed me to an article by Rob Horning about what old photos have that digital images lack.

Part of what makes photos worth saving is not their content alone, the image itself, but also the history that the object itself accumulates as it becomes like a heirloom. And as printing an image becomes more onerous and unnecessary, old photos seem to become valuable in and of themselves, as souvenirs of lost technologies, like old 78s or rotary phones.

Commenter RonCo had this to say.....

For the past couple of years, I’ve been scanning and annotating a big collection of family photos, working chronologically from the earliest ones (c. 1875) to, so far, the 1950s. I see it as a matter of preserving the photos, not replacing them.

The photos themselves contain a lot of cues about the era they came from: their size, the film quality, the print paper logos and developer marks on the back. The notes on the back may be the only examples we have of some family member’s handwriting. It all goes a long way to help you connect with the historical reality of peoples’ lives in the days before you knew them (if you knew them at all).

The digital versions have their charms, too. Looking at the pictures at screen size rather than at their original sizes has a curious equalizing effect that makes you take smaller, less formal pictures more seriously. You can zoom in to details you hadn’t otherwise noticed.

This reminded me of a former co-worker who was having trouble scanning photos of her daughter's wedding. She said that no matter how high she set the resolution on her scanner the digital images were just plain bad. I told her to try setting the scanner to a lower resolution, and things improved. The scanner had been amplifying the effects the photographer used to produce the pictures, resulting in them overpowering the image.