Sunday, 22 December 2013

Scans from Prints on Textured Paper

Why on earth did we do that? That, in this instance, being printing on textured paper like 'white fine lustre'. The texture, so popular in the 1950s, destroyed detail in the print and brings a groan to anybody scanning a print from that era. We did all we could to avoid grain in the negative and then added graininess at the printing stage.

Scans of 1950s prints on textured paper are often highly unsatisfactory. I scanned all the old photographs from two families, dating back to about 1860. Not surprisingly, the least satisfactory were those on textured paper from the time I started in photography. Many were my own prints.

For some time I searched for a solution reasoning that noise-suppressing software should enable a regular pattern to be at least toned down. Then I came across a report that Neat Image was the answer. So I downloaded the free trial version. I was so impressed that I paid for it immediately and dealt with all the scans of prints that I had. Mine is the Mac version that plugs into Aperture. Of course, it cannot restore what is not there and if overdone (the automatic setting worked fine for me) detail is smoothed over and lost.

These are before and after extracts from scans of prints on textured paper:


In the 1950s the various paper manufacturers had a wide range of textured papers. This is a Kodak advertisement from 1959 that shows the Bromesko (a very popular chloro-bromide paper):

Most of our photographs, particularly in the smaller sizes of paper, would have looked much better on white smooth glossy paper. So why did we not print on that all or most of the time. The current fashion was partly the reason. 'Proper' photographers used 'arty' textured paper. The second reason was that glossy paper had to be glazed by hand. By the late 1950s I had two chromium-plated steel glazing plates which fitted on a print dryer. These plates had to be cleaned, otherwise the dried prints would stick to the plate. After washing the prints were immersed for a few seconds in 'Glazing Solution'. The active constituent of this solution was ox gall; yes, the contents of the gall bladder of cattle killed in abattoirs (or slaughter-houses as they were then known). It is still used by artists as a paper wetting agent.

The wet print was then flattened onto the 8 x 10 inch glazing plate using either a flat rubber squeegee or a rubber roller, making sure that all the air was removed from between the print and the plate. Then the plate was held on the heated drying surface by a canvas cover until the dried print separated from the plate. After that palaver you had a glazed print. Badly glazed prints with air bubbles or specks of dirt looked horrible and had to be resoaked. Unglazed glossy paper had a dull but not quite matt. appearance. Commercial developing and printing houses had automatic, rotary glazers and drying drums.

So, it is perhaps not so surprising that textured papers were popular even when the quality of the final image was compromised.

Neat Image is at: