Interesting Look At "Old" Photography

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by PowerMac G4 MDD, Mar 29, 2016.

  1. PowerMac G4 MDD, Mar 29, 2016
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2016

    PowerMac G4 MDD macrumors 68000

    PowerMac G4 MDD

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    #1
    Hi,

    Now, we all know that amazing color photos have been achieved as far back as in the early 1900s, but the majority of photography from around the 1960s and earlier looks black and white, fuzzy, and/or even distorted.

    Because I usually deeply ponder these things, I began to wonder what such photographs could have done to make the subjects within them not relatable to many people in our current day. Sure, design and fashions of yesterday are a major factor, and, well, some people back then simply didn't look how they do now. However, the other thing that really creates a divide is color vs. black-and-white, and the quality of the photo. Oddly enough, it's not black-and-white that might SEEM like the major culprit; most don't think so, at least. However, color and quality make a HUGE difference, leaving design and fashion to be more or less the only remaining factors to consider.

    Now, we've all seen old photos that were either colorized then or have been now, but it's less common to see a new photo transformed into an old one. One would swear that the original photo is modern and relatable, but they might change their mind once they see the photo transformed to look old. In fact, if shown the "old" photo first and not told anything, one might even agree that it's an old photo and, at the same time, not be able to relate to it or its subjects!

    Okay, so here is a scanned photo that was taken in around the 1920s/1930s or so - maybe at some event(?) I see artifacts on the image, fuzziness, splotches, odd exposure, and subjects who are wearing clothing that would seem dated compared to even today's fancy dress. (If the photo doesn't appear at this line, it's the first one below.) BUT, here's the trick: This isn't a 1930s photo... sorry, I lied for the sake of making my point. This photo was actually taken at a wedding in 2007, and *sigh* that little kid is me. The second picture (either in this line or below) is the ACTUAL photo, which, in itself, almost looks to be an old photo that was colorized; but, in reality, it seems to be a bit too vivid in color - that's just the camera and lighting. Oh, and the attire for that wedding was specifically a suit with coat tails... in summertime Arizona weather. Lastly, that streak across the photo is a droplet of rain. That was lucky - it looked like an artifact one would see on a printed photo from the old days.

    Notice how much more relatable the color image is, especially now that you know that it was taken less than a decade ago? Sure, the outfits are archaic no matter what, but once you see any photo in color, all that's left for you to try and imagine is the design and fashion being normal. I mean, this may not be insightful to some, but others cannot get it out of their head that the olden days were black-and-white. To many, it feels as though the whole world back then was black-and-white. Seeing normal-looking people with old dress and old cars and then realizing that you can look outside your window right now and that's what it would have looked like back then is... well... intriguing (at least, to myself).

    Anyway, I hope at least one person out there related to this or found it interesting. Just a quick Photoshop project that I've been wanting to do, and something I've been wanting to discuss with others.
    DO NOT even get me started with my theories on how people back then sounded on audio! ;-) That's a much larger discussion, but I do have some observations I could share.

    -MDD

    (Scan back and forth between the two photos and compare. Note that I edited the smile in the "old" photo, as the facial expression originally there just didn't seem fit for the old photo look. Of course people smiled back then, but it looked to be too sharp and detailed. I wanted to create something that looked slightly obscured and distorted, but still apparent that it was a smile. Additionally, I wanted to create a more serious and professional tone. I think I was making that goofy smile because I caught someone snapping the photo of me... but not too sure.)
     

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  2. phrehdd macrumors 68040

    phrehdd

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    #2
    I thank you for sharing your thoughts here. While we may not fully agree on some of your premises, it is nice to see folks taking the time to really examine the art of photography, impact on viewers and impact of both b/w and colour images.

    As for me, I don't see it at all the way you do other than some folks see more "immediacy" or "relate-able" with colour. B/w images can at times, bring a greater response than a colour counterpart.

    Let's just say I have in the past spent many many years choosing b/w over colour while printing both (in the days of film and darkroom). - From Ilford and Agfa b/w film and papers to Kodak's Kodachrome printing with Cibachrome papers.

    Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts and nice to see folks exploring this fine venue of image making.
     
  3. Designer Dale macrumors 68040

    Designer Dale

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    #3
    60's vintage film guy here. It's all about format size. The 4X5 black and white Pan-X I shot produced pin sharp images with detail to match today's digital. To go to better stuff, look up Ansel Adams and Edward Weston who worked in larger format B&W.

    You obviously put a lot of time and thought into your post and project, but why did you pick a 1970 vintage photo and not a more genuine 60's or older one?

    Dale
     
  4. ApfelKuchen macrumors 68020

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    #4
    You can't escape the effects of age. I can tell that any time I look in the mirror. People intentionally age photos all the time - there are countless apps for that.

    While b&w certainly is one of the stereotypes for "old" and is used constantly for that purpose (I often see b&w footage in sports documentaries/historic clips that I'm quite confident was shot in color), it's totally possible to make a b&w image that looks fresh or timeless, as much of Ansel Adams' work does. A lot of that has to do with whether other effects of age are present - reduced contrast/fading, the mottling/spots/yellowing that come from the residual chemicals in poorly-processed prints, long term exposure to sunlight and polluted air, dust, objects in the image that provide date cues... while most people don't consciously understand why the photos look old, they're often subconsciously comparing the condition of that image to photos they've seen in poorly-maintained family photo albums, etc. Meanwhile, Adams was an early proponent of archival processing techniques, and the results speak for themselves.

    I see you put a lot of effort into your mouth, but the results seem totally artificial. A thin, white outline around your lips and gray teeth (or rather, a mottled, gray gap where lips and teeth ought to be)?? You're right, if it had been an image from the 1860s or 1870s, you wouldn't be grinning. I'm not sure why "grim" was "in" back then, other than the discomfort of holding a pose for an extended period. Perhaps it was important to be seen as serious-minded? Regardless, it's the execution, rather than the impulse that makes it seem "off" to me.

    Curious why you chose not to sepia-tone the b&w image. Though when I scan old b&w photos, I make a standard practice of going gray scale to strip out the yellowing. I also remove dust, spots and scratches, patch portions of flaked-off emulsion... In other words, I routinely un-do what you've set out to do. ;-) Still, I'm amazed how many people scan their old b&ws in color for no good reason.

    If you want "theories" on how people sounded back then... You should have been with me at the 1975 Audio Engineering Society convention in NYC. Thomas Stockham https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Stockham presented a paper and demonstration of the work they did to digitally restore acoustic cylinder recordings by Enrico Caruso, for one of RCA's first CD releases (described in that Wikipedia article, by the way). You don't need theories. He peeled away the various artifacts, layer by layer, and after all the digital signal processing used for the CD was explained, ended the demonstration with a digital synthesis of Caruso (an experiment by a research assistant), singing the same aria a cappella (the orchestra, as it was farther from the throat of the recording horn, never sounded quite "right" in the cleaned-up recordings); a jaw-dropping demonstration - pristine, clear, as if Caruso had been in the room with us.
     
  5. PowerMac G4 MDD, Mar 29, 2016
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2016

    PowerMac G4 MDD thread starter macrumors 68000

    PowerMac G4 MDD

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    #5

    Thanks for your kind response. I should have been more clear when I explained the b/w thing: I meant that certain b/w photos can be hard to relate to because the quality and lack of color in the photo set the subjects in them apart from today's viewers. Sure, b/w photography gives an effect that can sometimes add, for example, a dramatic tone to a picture; however, I was referring to old-fashioned photos, rather than pictures taken for the sake of being in black & white. When one peers into a black and white photo (most people, at least), they may have a difficult time picturing what it would have been like to be present there - back then. Having color and clear quality can erase that created wall, and then what is just left is the subjects' clothing and hair styles. Personally, I have seen colorized photos where I would have otherwise not been able to imagine similar-looking people walking the street today.

    What's amazing about color is that, once added to a very old picture, one can suddenly think, "That man in the picture actually looks like any normal person who I'd see walking today's streets."

    I took a photo class last year where we developed b/w photos in my school's dark room, and they did look so much better in b/w than they would have looked in color. And I'm not sure if this is just because I know the people whose pictures I took or I know that they were taken today, but even in b/w, I couldn't imagine the pictures being old. For one, the quality of the photos was obviously much better than those that would actually have been taken in the 'old days,' and the subjects were wearing modern clothing. Maybe with distortion and old dress, such photos would have looked old. So, no, black & white doesn't necessarily spell out "old" to me, but it certainly can under the correct setting.
    --- Post Merged, Mar 29, 2016 ---
    Yes, the mouth was botched, but the reason I left it like that is because I have seen various old photos where the image actually ended up distorting a subject in such a way that it was hard to imagine such a person being on the streets today. That is yet another thing that can distance such subjects; sometimes errors with film made those people look less human.

    I have taken my own black & white photos, and I could not agree more that modern b/w photos are easily achieved. However, photos that are old enough aren't JUST in b/w; they're distorted, weathered, or were simply taken with a camera whose picture quality makes them look dated. As soon as an 'ancient' picture is put into color and maybe happened to be taken with a good studio camera, so many more doors are opened up - I can relate to the picture better and imagine what it would have been like to have stood there.

    Again, most people picture, say, the 1920s as if they are looking at it by way of old film reel. Once someone looks at a color photo from the 1920s, it can completely flip their lids.
    --- Post Merged, Mar 29, 2016 ---
    That as well; the majority of very old photos are usually not sharp enough and are full of artifacts. Like with dirty glasses lens, the image is obscured and many find the subjects within the photo difficult to imagine in full color and in life-like view. When I see an old photo that's in black-and-white AND of poor quality, I immediately have a difficult time picturing myself standing with those people - especially back then. It's difficult to imagine that, back then, everything was like how it would be now if I were to look outside my window; only, cars, fashion, and design would differ.

    Also, are you referring to the photo that I posted here? It's from 2007, not the 1970s. I'm only 18 years old. Hope I'm not sounding too naive to you older forum members here.
    --- Post Merged, Mar 29, 2016 ---
    BTW, I would also pay special attention to the taller men on either side in the photo. In the distorted b/w image, they look to me like... maestros or something from the 1930s, or perhaps 1930s party-goers. However, in the original shot, they look to be normal, modern-day people in traditional dress.
    --- Post Merged, Mar 29, 2016 ---
    Do you know where I can find examples of these clear recordings? I've been looking all over the place online to find them. It would be interesting to hear an old recording with such clear quality, as poor mic quality is the majority of the reason why people in the 1960s and earlier sounded so uniform and odd.
     
  6. PowerMac G4 MDD thread starter macrumors 68000

    PowerMac G4 MDD

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    #6
    Hmm - so after closer analysis of old photos (found online), I think I have become more comfortable with visualizing the subjects and relating to them. While I still see plenty of old photos where I couldn't even imagine the subjects walking today's streets, I did see several others where the black-and-white did not create any divide. For instance, look at this photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dizengoff_St_looking_north_1930s.jpg

    It looks as though I could be standing right there, more or less.
     
  7. phrehdd macrumors 68040

    phrehdd

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    #7
    Perhaps a nice exercise is not imagining people of that time and how they would be now but the opposite - how would you imagine yourself back then.

    As for that photo - I think it does quite well in b/w because of the lines and geometry of the buildings. Colour might bring your sense of immediacy but we would be distracted from the shapes and tones.

    FYI - Among my trips I have been to that street in Tel Aviv (though many years later than that image). Also, if I recall correctly, Israel has the largest collection of Bauhaus style of buildings and some with a touch of "decco."
     
  8. ApfelKuchen macrumors 68020

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    #8
    It's interesting that one of your criteria is, "Can I imagine myself standing there?"

    I was already working professionally in radio and music recording when I was 18 (and more than 40 years has passed since then), so I have some perspective on what youth can learn and achieve... Sorry, but it's clear that you don't yet know enough about recording to know why older recordings sound as they do.

    It's not about mic quality. Not by a long shot. Mics and lenses have a lot in common (mics and lenses have roughly equivalent functions in their respective media). Reasonably high quality mics and lenses existed very early on in the history of audio and photography, respectively. The ability of those media to capture and preserve that quality left a lot to be desired.

    Factors affecting the sound of older audio recordings include the electronics (I'm skipping over the Age of Acoustic Recording, as there were no microphones, only horns), recording media (analog tape, acetate and vinyl disks and all the garbage they added), differences of aesthetic (more/less reverb, distant/close micing, use of compressors/limiters and equalization...), was the original recorded in mono or stereo and how many mics were in use... That's only part of the list. You're also almost undoubtedly judging from digital reissues of analog recordings. What kind of recording was used as the source for the reissue (master tape, commercially pressed disk, copy of a copy of a copy...)? How much work was put into remastering? You simply can't compare original digital recordings to recordings made originally in analog without understanding the many forms of distortion present in analog that are not present in digital.

    From my perspective, microphones were not the "weakest link" in recording quality - they were generally capable of greater quality than recording technology could capture. Condenser microphones are considered the standard for accuracy. They were invented in 1916 (happy 100th birthday!). There are no recordings of similar age that capture the quality possible. You could begin to hear that quality in a live broadcast, but the quality of live broadcasts was far below what is now possible. A well-made disk recording might temporarily capture it, but each playing would further degrade the sound. Optical motion picture recordings were more durable, but still subject to dust and scratches. Magnetic recordings made in Germany in the 1930s do exist, and their quality is remarkably better than other recordings made in the same era (you might find some digital samples if you search hard enough), but they still fall short of magnetic recordings made two or three decades later.

    The recording process has always been flawed. Recording allows us to capture a representation of the live experience. It does not duplicate it. As a recording engineer who specialized in capturing live events, I strove to capture the impression of "live" as well as satisfyingly represent the performance. While some engineers and producers did their best to eliminate sub-optimal room acoustics and the noises made by the audience (in order to sound more like pristine studio recordings), I would separately mic the audience and the room acoustics and mix that back in to establish a sense of "place." In some live recordings, applause sounds muddy and distant. In mine, it was crisp and present. If someone was idly tuning across the FM dial, I wanted them to recognize, subconsciously, that they were listening to a live event.

    Altogether, while it's interesting to know how things did sound (or look) back then, from my perspective the only thing that matters is "live experience" vs. "recorded." There is no substitute for being in a room full of performers. Ear buds can't make your chest resonate, or provide the visual and three-dimensional audio cues that allow your mind to shift its focus.

    Time has not changed the live experience. If we were in Carnegie Hall in 1920, a soprano would still sound like a soprano, a violin would still be a violin. There are differences in performance practice - the use of vibrato has changed over time. Tonal balances in an orchestra have probably changed as well (relative amount of soprano/alto/tenor/bass voices/instruments). Tempo and even tuning standards have changed (we have less patience with "slow," and "concert pitch" has gradually shifted upwards in order to produce a brighter sound), as have the goals of acoustical design. But on the whole, our bodies have not evolved at anything close to the speed of technological change, and neither has our ability to comprehend or appreciate what our senses tell us. In terms of the human experience, today and yesteryear are not that far apart.

    You'll find that in photography, as well. There have been changes in taste when it comes to matters of design and color, but a sunset then looked like a sunset today (though the presence/absence of pollutants - whether from a volcano or smokestack - has its effect), a weathered old building looks old, a freshly-erected building looks fresh... Though today's old building looked new at some point in the past, there were old buildings back then, too. Sure, streets are more likely to be paved today than they were 150 years ago, there's a whole lot less horse manure on those streets, artificial street lighting has made a huge difference... But in the end, photography is abstract. It's a two-dimensional form. Still photography freezes time. Photos do not capture reality, they interpret it.

    If you want to use photographs and audio recordings to imagine you are someplace back in time, go right ahead. However, it is just your imaginings. Since your memory can't fully recreate events you've experienced first-hand, how can you expect some old photos or recordings to recreate a past that existed before we were born?
     
  9. dwig, Mar 30, 2016
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2016

    dwig macrumors 6502

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    #9
    Totally false.

    Check out Shorpy and check out these images.

    It's true that a lot of old prints have not fared well due to their rough life. Also, color print materials from the '60s through the late '70s didn't have a good life span with colors fading unevenly in just 10-15 years meaning that youngsters today have never seen what they looked like originally. Most truly old B&W prints, if not abused, have survived well. I personally own quite a number of negatives in the 75-100 year old range and prints up to 160+ that are still very good images, sharp and with excellent tonal range.
     
  10. phrehdd macrumors 68040

    phrehdd

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    #10
    I deal with old time photos on a regular basis. I didn't opt to go the direction you did (though I am glad you did) and can't help but think about the f/45 club (f stop 45 on large format cameras) and the amazing amount of detail in the images. Then again, Civil War related images associated with Brady also have quite a bit of details along with of course, various nature photographers who shot "classic" images such as Ansel Adams. As for me, I have enjoyed super sharp images and those that lent themselves to pushed fast film that is very grainy such as smoke filled jazz clubs that had minimal lighting.

    The OP talked about the immediacy of images and I fully understand the notion of how for some an image needs to be as close to the original scene itself to gain that immediacy (and that would imply colour as part of the equation).
     
  11. Designer Dale macrumors 68040

    Designer Dale

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    #11
    I think part of this is how the image is being perceived. Some people look at a photograph and want to relate to the subject in it on a personal level. To think about what it was like to be in that time and place. Others view the image as a stand alone piece of art and are absorbed by the arrangement of elements within the frame and use of technical and artistic elements like the rule of thirds or focal point. From this we get folks that are into street photography and landscapes but not both. Others like to take it all in. Kind of like herbivores, carnivores and omnivores in the animal kingdom.

    Yummy!

    Dale
     

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