Graduating Class, '90, Union College of Law

Something a little different for you this week: A photo restoration. This photo had a sad, sad life before it came to me. It was well loved however, as it must have been put in its frame fairly shortly after it was taken.  It was sandwiched into the frame with the frontpage of the newspaper Club Life, dated October 11th, 1890.

For those of you without a background in conservation, the operative word in the previous sentence is newspaper. Newspaper, particularly old newspaper, is full of all sorts of nasty reactive chemicals. By the time I got my hands on it, the newspaper had begun to dissolve under its own power.

As for the poor photo: At some point, the photo had become one with the glass. I'm not sure exactly what the chemical process was, but removing it was synonymous with destroying it. And that was the state of affairs when someone dropped it, and shattered the glass.

The owner brought it to me, and asked if there was anything I could do.  I blinked at her for a minute, and said I'd give it my best shot. The first order of business was to get it scanned, which was impossible in its current state. The photo had snapped along with the glass in some places, but was still intact in others.  The glass grated against itself every time I tried to move it, causing more damage to the glass and the photo. Flipping it over in order to scan it was out of the question. Also it was spitting glass slivers everywhere.

Painful as it was, I had to use a razor to finish the process of breaking the picture into pieces.  I scanned each piece separately, then I assembled them in Photoshop, which gave me this:


Thirty hours of work later, I gave this back to the client:




There are a few interesting things about this photo, beyond the reconstruction work.

First, it's pretty clear that not everyone had the same idea about how to pose for a graduation photograph. The guys in the back are posed and proper, hats in hand, while others sit with either genuine or awkward informality. Most people look in the direction of the photographer, but others seem to deliberately stare somewhere else. Everybody agrees that smiling is bad, but that's about the only consensus.

The Union College of Law later became the law school of Northwestern University.

Also, where the hell was this taken? A construction zone? An alley? Wherever it was, the guy lounging in the front felt obligated to put his handkerchief on the ground underneath him to protect his suit.

People knew how to put letters in their names in the 1890's. Boy howdy. Here's the best example, before and after.


Lastly, there are two women in the photo. One would have been unusual, and two is really something of a surprise.


The registry lists them as L. Blanche Fearing (to the left) and Mrs. Fearing.

That's right. She has no first name, not for the likes of you, anyway. She is Mrs. Fearing. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.