Clear the Haze from Pictures and Memory

clearing-the-pictureThe pictures above have deep meaning for me, and I think they are likely to strike a chord with most viewers, evoking memories of their own. I want my stories to have that effect. I want readers to see themselves in my words, finding new ways to see old situations and become more fully themselves.

I recently found this left-hand picture from 1973 in a pile I was sorting through. Something in it stirred me, though haziness dimmed my response. I decided to try restoring it.

I scanned it with my Epson V600 scanner using Professional mode on the scanner interface. I used the Color Restoration tool and the Unsharp Mask tool set to high. That produced over 90% of the result you see on the right, but I wanted more. I cloned out spots on the pillow and sharpened the picture a bit more. Then I added a warming yellowish tone to approximate the wall color I recall.

The crisp, haze-free result makes me feel like I’m “back in the picture,” especially when I view it full size and zoom in on details.

I used an ancient version of Photoshop for this, but does almost as much as Photoshop and it’s free. Picasa, another popular free choice, is easy to use. Most scanners should have some semblance of the  Epson’s capability. My husband’s 12-year-old Epson can do this, just not as fast.

Once I got a clear view of the photo, I sat with it until I sank into the feeling of having those tots around full time, and gratitude I felt. I thought about how different they were from each other. I looked at our clothing and recalled the joy of sewing. George is on the left. I made his jeans. I made Susan’s to match one I made for myself. I made John’s trendy fake vest shirt. Sewing with knits was big in the seventies. I’m surprised to realize that my shirt and pants both came from stores. Nearly everything in my closet was my own creation.

I remembered the challenge of reupholstering the tattered Goodwill sectional my mom was tired of. Fake animal fur was affordable and trendy. It was a perfect fit for the shag rug in our brand-new home. When we bought new living room furniture, this old stuff went down to the family room. On the right side you see the crewel embroidery project I was working on. That huge picture perfectly matched the carpeting. I put it away years ago. I may rehang it yet.

Oh, the hair – where did it all go? This was my Involved Earth Mother phase: PTO, League of Women Voters, Republican Women, bridge club and more.  I also recalled feeling overwhelmed at times, and wondering just where I fit into the larger scheme of things. Mostly it was a time of settling into house and community and keeping those lively youngsters and their daddy fed, clothed and happy.

I made a list of memories I can use in stories spawned by that picture:

  • Shag rug: hard to live with! Vacuuming flattened it, and I used a garden rake to restore it to fluffiness. Needless to say, I did not do that on a daily basis.
  • Bare feet. I lived in bare feet in the house. I still do in the summer.
  • Making things. I loved crafting enhancements for our home. Repurposing “found objects” was my specialty. I hope to get back to that soon when we move into another new-to-us home.
  • Informality: Our life style was and still is informal. What you see there is no formal pose. It’s typical.

The list goes on, but you get the idea.

My final thought is that stories are like that these pictures. I liken the left one to an early draft. A robust round of editing clears the haze, letting the story shine through. A few more tweaks enhance detail. The final version conveys the sense of the situation so well that readers feel “in the picture,” much as I do with the finished version on the right.

Write now: Find an old picture that’s hazy and indistinct. Play with settings on your scanner and use or Picasa to touch it up. Zoom in on details in the finished result and look for stories everywhere.


macsue said...

As soon as I saw your first photo I knew it was from the 1970s, I have so many similar ones. You've done a brilliant job restoring it. I can also relate to your sewing and shag pile carpet. When we bought our first house the Dining Room had mustard shag pile carpet and when we lifted it and rolled it up dozens of pins stuck out through the backing. The previous owner must have sewed by the window and never managed to find the pins she dropped into the shag pile. I couldn't believe it when the next house we bought also had the same carpet. Must have been the rage in the 1970s.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Sue, yes, gold shag was more popular than avocado, though both were big. Your house probably also had gold appliances and perhaps matching tub, toilet and sink in a bathroom. Funny about the pins. My sewing machine was downstairs in a large laundry/craft/guest room with a tile floor, so I had little risk with pins. Lucky you never stepped on any. That would be a story! Hope you are writing about that era.

Amber Starfire said...

Pictures are wonderful for bringing us back into a moment (or a period) of time and helping us remember the details -- the colors and smells and textures, along with the feelings we had.

Great job restoring the picture, Sharon. I have so many like that. Over time, I have been gradually scanning pictures from old albums and adding them to my online album. Another project on my long list of projects!

Sharon Lippincott said...

Thanks Amber. I do have fun restoring pictures. Sometimes it gets complex, but pictures like this are easily within reach of anyone who spends a few minutes with free software.

It is indeed rewarding to use pictures like this as a sort of emotional time machine.