Art curators will be able to recover images on daguerreotypes, the earliest form of photography that used silver plates, after scientists learned how to use light to see through degradation that has occurred over time.
Research published today in Scientific Reports includes two images from the National Gallery of Canada’s photography research unit that show photographs that were taken, perhaps as early as 1850, but were no longer visible because of tarnish and other damage. The retrieved images, one of a woman and the other of a man, were beyond recognition. “It’s somewhat haunting because they are anonymous and yet it is striking at the same time,” said Madalena Kozachuk, a PhD student in the Department of Chemistry at Western University and lead author of the scientific paper.
“The image is totally unexpected because you don’t see it on the plate at all. It’s hidden behind time. But then we see it and we can see such fine details: the eyes, the folds of the clothing, the detailed embroidered patterns of the table cloth.”
The identities of the woman and the man are not known. It’s possible that the plates were produced in the United States, but they could be from Europe.
For the past three years, Kozachuk and an interdisciplinary team of scientists have been exploring how to use synchrotron technology to learn more about chemical changes that damage daguerreotypes.
Image: A mounted daguerreotype resting on the outside of the vacuum chamber within the SXRMB (a beamline at CLS) hutch.
Credit: Madalena Kozachuk.