Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 1, Issue 3, Tuesday June 17, 2003

















































































reviving the past

THE photographs were covered with a thick film of black dust when Ruby picked them up from under the antediluvian almirah while cleaning up her room. Taher looked spectacular with his sparkling eyes that were hidden behind his broad big spectacles. The eyes that left her spellbound the first time she saw him seventy-five years back. The mystical smile of his brought back many memories to Ruby's mind that grew old with her. The photographs were damaged. The black and white colour of them had taken on an almost yellowish tinge. She stood looking down at the pictures, picking them up at random to see them better, and as she looked at them it was suddenly so easy to remember the exact moment…their wedding day!

There were other photographs there as well - the children when they were small…a wonderful one of Ruksana standing with her favourite doll…
and Rakib, looking terribly grown up, though he was only thirteen, at his birthday. The most wonderful photograph was that one in particular where the twins were in her arms when they were first born. Taher had taken those photographs himself, trying to pretend not to have tears in his eyes, as he looked at Rubina with their two children.
Rubina stood looking at the photographs for a long time, touching the moments, thinking of each of them, gently brushing against the memories, while trying not to bump into those that were painful. Tears filled her eyes as she looked at them lovingly, wiping off the dust with one corner of her saree. The memories of her life were locked up in those small photographs. The photographs, which were now almost torn and damaged and had become so yellow that one, could hardly see them properly.

Meet Mujibar Rahman Bahar, a person who promises his customers an astounding revival of their cherished, old, torn and damaged pictures. He is one of the workers of the Fuji Film colour studio located at one corner of the new elephant road of Dhaka city. As you walk into his studio, he greets you with a warm smile. He says he doesn't enjoy talking about himself; he rather prefers his work to do the talking. But as you sit face to face with this creative man he surprises you with something profound, and that too in the simplest of words! Bahar, as he prefers himself to be called, took seven years intensive course on photography in Malaysia. Mainly through this course he learnt the techniques of reviving old photographs.
'The work is not difficult," as Bhahar explains, but it requires a lot of patience and skill. After all you are trying to put together parts of figures which have become almost ruined by scratches or which have become greatly discoloured. So you need to work on every minute detail and bring back the similar although not always the original picture."

Since we are talking about photographs it is very essential to know what actually is photography. The word photography comes from Greek words meaning to write or to draw with light. A photograph is basically a picture drawn with rays of light. The process of reviving old photographs is nowadays completely computerised and the process by which it is done is known as the digital process. The steps involve first scanning the old photo into a computer. Then the photo is modified using the software such as Adobe Photoshop or Maya. In case any distortion of the photo takes place. For example, if the nose, the eyes or any parts of the body are lost then it is carefully drawn and painted in using the tools available in the software. Once painted it is then composed at the appropriate position and the picture is brought alive. By this process 85% of proper corrections can be made after which the final print out is brought out.

Bahar also knows the technique of composing figures beside other figures in case they are not properly visible in the photo. He also does this by using the same software. Some techniques also provide options to the customer to change the old black and white photographs to coloured ones or even the coloured ones to black and white. I suppose black and white photography has withstood the test of time. Despite the movement from monochrome to colour film, and more recently from emulsion to digital, it has remained popular among the photographs all around the world. This is because by removing the colour from an image, it becomes far easier to convey a message and allows the viewer to get straight to the point and have a better understanding of the picture. Of course colour has its own strengths; it's certainly good at catching the eye.. but it's just too easy to rely on spectacular colour and forget the content of the image as once Vincent Van Gogh had said , "I often think that the night is more alive and more richly coloured than the day". So, for this reason I think the old black and white photographs have so much value.

Then again there are some techniques, which allows various designs around the photo to be made for the better projection of the memories. Even writings such as small poems in tribute to the loved ones who are dead can be done on them.

"There are some customers who come to us declaring that they have no possessions of their parents except their very old photo negatives. In such cases I first scan the old negatives, modify them using Adobe Photoshop, compare them with the old ones if any corrections are needed to be made and finally print them out on glossy- surface paper," says Bahar thoughtfully. 'In this case the customers not only get the opportunity to have some possessions of their parents but can also lock up their old memories in those papers".

People now are so fortunate that they can easily revive the torn and ruined old photos which mean so much to them. But just think about those people in the past who were not lucky enough to avail themselves of the same facilities as we can now. In earlier times, that is before the invention of computers, damaged photographs were given to artists. The artists were provided with the full freedom to improve the photos on their own. The artists used their complete imagination and used paints and colours to touch-up the almost ruined pictures. But that technique did not always help, due to the artificial colours used the original picture was altered to a large extent and often in many cases even got spoiled.

"I don't believe in doing anything that does not come from within. Whatever you may be shooting, whatever image you are creating, all should have a soul. That is why I give particular attention when improving the old photographs since they are of great sentimental value and take great pleasure out of my work. I feel proud when I've been able to successfully reconstruct an old photograph and hand it down to my customers. To me it is not a work that I do for money but it a work which I do out of sheer dedication and respect'- the photographer Mujibur Rahman Bahar concludes.

Truly, photographs are not just ordinary commodities that you can use to decorate your lounge or hang on the walls. But according to me amongst so many things photographs are the ones that have true sentimental value as they help us to link our past with our future. Therefore whether the pictures are coloured or black and white; these are precious small things that we should treasure and not let them get ruined with time…

By Sarah Zermin Huq

52, New Elephant Road, Dhaka
Pnone#9675311, 9673346

Tk150 for 3R(3 ½ x 5)
Tk300 10R (10 x 12)
Highest Tk1000
Printing scanning + Service charge included in the following amount.

Restoring Photographs

OLD photographs are like treasured snippets of history allowing you to take a peek into a different time. Sometimes what you see can be downright surprising like the snaps of parents when they were young and wearing suffocatingly tight shirts with humongous collars. There's the hairstyles and the definite proof of what parents mean when they tell us "those" were better days. But then you take out the old albums, blow away the dust, sneeze a few times and notice that the old photos are ruined. Black and white photographs are patchy in some areas as if eaten away by something (which is exactly the case). Other pictures have a beige tint. So do you throw away the pictures and the negatives? Not necessarily.

Photographs damaged up to a certain degree can be retouched. Photographer ATM Harun-ur Rashid of the National Museum is one of the best in this field. His office contained samples of old snapshots that were badly damaged. Portraits were the common subjects. The most difficult to repair are pictures that have white patches all over. It's the work of an insect called silverfish which feeds on the chemicals of the photographs. These are little white creatures that squash very easily and are seen scurrying whenever an old album is opened. It's more difficult to fix than faded snaps because the artist has to fill in details that are not there anymore. Old negatives also need work because they start losing tone as well.

Harun-ur Rashid has been into photography since 1964 and also maintains his photo shop which he started in 1967. He specializes in manual retouching as opposed to digital. In case of digital retouching the picture is enhanced using a computer but the end result is a poor and flat image because tonal highlights go missing.

The process of retouching by hand is a fairly difficult and time consuming one. The first step is called separation. Here the picture is separated based on the background color and the subject. A contrast is created to better highlight the image. Some modifications can be done on the actual photograph. If the paper is too damaged then a new negative has to be made and from that a new print. Touching up is done by pencil or brush. You may have seen some shops where they add darker lines around the eyes, add color to the hair and even add a little dot on the women's foreheads. This man on the other hand goes far, far beyond those amateurish pursuits. Half the picture may be missing and he will bring back an exact reproduction. Only when you look at his work close-up can you notice any difference. Other methods include scraping that is used to bring out or blend in facial highlights like wrinkles and moustache lines.

It's a time consuming job and generally takes about a week to go from fuzzy puzzle to a developed print ready for mounting. A regular picture costs about 200 to 250 Taka to be repaired.

Color pictures are very difficult to work on as there is such a huge variation in hue. A better idea would be to convert them to black and white. The main reason why some pictures deteriorate very fast is the salt residue left during washing. Newly developed pictures need to be washed thoroughly in running water to remove as much of the salt as possible otherwise residues cause bacteria growth. A very good way of preserving them is by lamination, but if not done properly the plastic may split at the edges and that picture can never be repaired. Paper lamination is another form but it is difficult to do.

Another tip to preserve pictures is the keep them away from damp with the help of silica gel. It's a gel that absorbs moisture but needs to be dried out occasionally.
I read about a woman who ran out of her burning house with her photo albums. According to her everything else can be replaced but not the old memories. Preserve your past.

By Ehsanur Raza Ronny


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