Making a Silk Purse
Creating compelling images
out of troublesome photos.
The Problem:
We had been hired to design a brochure and letterhead package for a preservation society trying to bring a wonderful but completely decrepit old theatre back to life. Unfortunately, the quality of the available historical images left a lot to be desired. Shown below is the primary photograph we were given to use — one of the few existing of the Carolina Theatre in its heyday. It had some serious problems; chief among them we suspected the print was a second- or third-generation copy from the original. To make matters worse, there were banners and stand-up cut-outs in the photo (temporary displays of the day promoting a Buster Keaton film that was playing) that we wanted to avoid (not to mention ladders, street vendors, etc.).
Our Solution:
We decided to re-photograph the photograph. To avoid the problematic Buster Keaton displays we shot from rakish angles. To disguise the poor quality of the black-and-white print we used selective focus, which is very forgiving. To add interest and drama to the image we used daylight film with tungsten lights to give us a golden color, and we also shone a handheld Maglight flashlight on the center area to create a blown-out highlight. To cap things off, we gave the image a feathered oval edge in Photoshop, and voila! — we had workable images like the one shown below.
As you may imagine, the preservation society was on a tight budget, so we converted the images to warm gray / golden yellow duotones to fit the two-color printing budget for their business papers and small brochure (shown below). In the end, the combination of the golden color of the images, the lighting tricks, the selective focus and shooting from fresh and unexpected angles breathed new life into an old relic — something we hope will also happen to the crumbling shell that once was the majestic Carolina Theatre.
A Bonus to Ponder:
We had worked with the original image for quite a while before we noticed we had some company — a mystery man on the theatre roof — possibly the very worker who had erected those pesky Keaton displays in the first place. Although the photograph itself was not dated, the movie listed on the marquee, Parlor, Bedroom and Bath, was released in 1931. At that time, in his wildest dreams, this man could not have foreseen the advent of the Internet nor imagined that some curious design studio would discover his face in a photograph (that he may never even have known was taken) and post it for immediate viewing by people all over the world. Life is amazing. If it gets even more amazing and someone knows who this guy is, by all means let us know.
For more examples of similar photographic techniques, check out Visual Notions in the Opine section of this web site.