Friday, January 11, 2013

The Jenny Project

Sometimes, the photographs that I come across are in really poor shape, but no matter how bad they are, there's something inside me that wants to try and save them. Add to their physical condition the problem that many of these photos have absolutely no context information accompanying them, or discernable within them.

Because the Airco DH-4, Standard J-1 and Curtiss JN-4 Jenny were such popular trainers during and after WWI (keep in mind, there were almost 7,000 Jennys built!), there are a lot of photos of these aircraft still existing that fall into this category. The quantity of photos taken of trainees with their planes, plus the poor quality and lack of information, means that unless there's something special, many of these nearly century old photographs are shunned by collectors and assigned little value.

This first photo, of a group of guys working on an Airco DH-4, is a good case in point. By the subject and by the paper, this print was probably made sometime before 1920, making it nearly a hundred years old. When I found it, it was extremely faded, and you could barely see any detail in it. By scanning and essentially over-processing it, a surprising amount of detail can be brought out, but at the sacrifice of the sky (which in the original print doesn't look nearly as "dirty" as it does here).

I have no clue as to where this was shot, or the circumstances surrounding the scene, but it appears that the small group of men are standing around two who are knelt down, possibly over an open tool box.

The second set of photos, all three of which came from the same collection and appear to be of the same plane on the same day, show several Army trainees and a civilian standing with a JN-4 Jenny. Two of the photos are in fairly decent condition, but the third has become so dark with age that it is difficult to make out much with the naked eye. Again, with over-processing of contrast along with tone mapping can bring out a lot, though at a price.

Without any kind of historical context to give them meaning, are prints like this even worth saving? I'd like to think so, so I'm starting "The Jenny Project", which will actively seek out photos of this sort. If anyone has such prints that they don't want, and can't find anyone else who will value them, send them my way!

The top view shows the photo as it looks to the eye, the bottom 
shows some of the additional detail discernable with overprocessing.

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