We all probably remember having to pose for an annual class photograph in primary school. If you made the mistake of telling your mother about the looming photograph beforehand you probably had to wear something “nice” and had your hair plastered to your head by your mother while she informed you of the trouble you’d be in if you made a funny face. Everyone looks a little awkward in these photographs and only a few of us wanted to have the picture taken in the first place. Frankly, I’m amazed that they got us all to sit still long enough to take the photograph. Some of us also had similar photographs taken while participating in team sports which also led to some interesting photographs.
These are some of the memories that have been popping up this past month as I digitize nitrate negatives from the Sports Information Office: Photographic Negatives collection circa 1924-1992, 1995 and undated. The collection contains photographic negatives related to sports at Duke. I’ve digitized about half of the negatives and seen images from mostly football, basketball, baseball and boxing. The majority of these photographs are of individuals but there are also team shots, group shots and coaches. While you may have to wait a bit for the publication of these negatives through the Digital Collections website I had to share some of these gems with you.
Some of the images strike me as funny for the expressions, some for the pose and others for the totally out of context background. It makes me wonder what the photographer’s intention/ instruction was.
To capture these wonderful images we are using a recently purchased Hasselblad FlexTight X5. The Hasselblad is a dedicated high-end film scanner that uses glassless drum scanning technology. Glassless drum scanning takes advantage of all the benefits of a classic drum scanner (high resolution, sharpness, better D-max/ D-min) without all the disadvantages (wet mounting messiness, newton rings, time consuming, price, speed). This device produces extremely sharp reproductions of which the film grain in the digital image can be seen. A few more important factors about this scanner are: a wide variety of standard film sizes can be digitized along with custom sizes and it captures in a raw file format. This is significant because negatives contain a significant amount of tonal information that printed photographs do not. Once this information is captured we have to adjust each digital image as if we were printing the negative in a traditional dark room. When using image editing software to adjust an image an algorithm is at work making decisions about compressing, expanding, keeping or discarding tonal information in the digital image. This type of adjustment causes data loss. Because we are following archival imaging standards, retaining the largest amount of data is important. Sometimes the data loss is not visible to the naked eye but making adjustments renders the image data “thin”. The more adjustments to an image the less data there is to work with.
It kind of reminds me of the scene in Shawshank Redemption (spoiler alert) where the warden is in Andy Dufresne’s (Tim Robbins) cell after discovering he has escaped. The warden throws a rock at a poster on the wall in anger only to find there is a hole in the wall behind the poster. An adjusted digital image is similar in that the image looks normal and solid but there is no depth to it. This becomes a problem if anyone, after digitization, wants to reuse the image in some other context where they will need to make adjustments to suit their purposes. They won’t have a whole lot of latitude to make adjustments before digital artifacts start appearing. By using the Hasselblad RAW file format and capturing in 16 bit RGB we are able to make adjustments to the raw file without data loss. This enables us to create a robust file that will be more useful in the future.
I’m sure there will be many uses for the negatives in this collection. Who wouldn’t want a picture of a former Duke athlete in an odd pose in an out of context environment with a funny look on their face? Right?