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Sunday, 6 February 2022

Lost Colour

In 1974, I retired my trusty old Kodak Brownie Starmite camera, bought a Zenith E single lens reflex and switched from black and white prints to colour slides. The photographs from that time are still good, even after nearly fifty years. For example, here in the summer of 1974 is my friend’s Hillman Minx being unloaded by crane from the (turbine steamship) T S Leda at Bergen, Norway. It was the ship’s last year as a North Sea ferry before Roll-on/Roll-off came into operation on that route. You watched anxiously as your car was lowered to the quayside.

We had sailed from the Tyne Commission Quay at Newcastle. Only last May, I walked the half mile out to the end of the pier at Tynemouth, which I remember passing on the Leda, and gazed awestruck into the mouth of the Tyne, and at the even longer structure on the South Shields side. All still very much in colour, both photographically and in memory.  

Now look at this one, taken at Scarborough in 2004, which I discovered when scanning in.  


It isn’t a one off; we have four boxes like this, a hundred and forty four washed out pictures, all on Agfachrome from 2004. We have other boxes from the same year on Fujichrome, and others on Agfachrome from before and after, all fine. So far as I can remember, they have not been stored any differently; all have been in a drawer in the same cardboard box. On Steve Reed’s Shadows & Light blog, he even has good slides from the nineteen-fifties.

Some of our affected slides are like this one of wild ponies on Dartmoor. They suggest a reaction with the air, because these were from the centres of the slide boxes. They seem to have degraded from the outside in.
 

I found a web site, https://www.scantips.com/color.html, which explained how the slide below on the left had been restored to the two on its right, but despite playing around with Photoshop, I was unable to restore mine to anything like its original self. Some of the detail seems to have been lost. And you would need much better Photoshop skills than I have to correct slides that still retain colour in the centre but have lost it at the edges. 

Thankfully, it’s only four boxes: we have over a hundred and fifty in all. Is it our fault, or did Agfa change something in 1974? I’ll probably never know.

The slides were from my wife’s camera. She changed to digital in 2006, as I had done in 2001. Here is her picture from last year of the iconic lighthouse at the end of Tynemouth pier, which I remembered seeing from the Leda. Underneath is how the piers look from the air. They shelter the mouth of the Tyne. Incredible! 

Lots of things can go wrong with digital images, but loss of colour is unlikely to be one of them.




34 comments:

  1. I have thousnds of old slides - I suppose i shall have to burn them or something - they will mean absolutely nothing to those who follow.

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    1. We used to have some printed and kept a photo album, writing in titles and captions. That's one way to leave a legacy if anyone is interested. But it takes ages deciding which to print, you can only do a few, and many of those we didn't print are just as interesting. So it seems worth scanning them in. I'm working at a rate of only 3 or 4 boxes a week, so it's a long job.

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  2. Shame about the slides, it's not the material they are mounted in is it? Some sort of chemical reaction of incompatible plastics?
    Actually the one of the ponies has a certain art quality to it

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    1. Interesting thought, but I reason if it was a reaction with the frames they would all be the same, rather than those sandwiched in the centres of the boxes retaining colour in the centre and those on the outsides being completely washed out.

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  3. Old slides and photos rarely look as good as when they were newly developed. At least that's been my experience, but I never had an expensive camera.

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    1. I think that's probably right, especially when we used to shine bright projector lights through them, and dwell for longer on the slides we liked most. I doubt the quality of the camera makes much difference - the Zenith was the cheapest SLR you could find.

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    2. Oh, I never thought about some slides weathering differently based on how long they'd been shown on the screen. That's an interesting idea.

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  4. I think I've converted or tossed all of my old slides. Yet I hang onto a slide projector for some deranged reason.

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    1. I've got two projectors - and the screen. It might be fun to get them out for one last time, like Charlotte Rampling in the film 45 years.

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  5. I've never been out on the Tynemouth Pier and nor can I remember seeing it even though we caught a ferry from South Shields to Amsterdam. The river mouth is certainly well protected.

    My mother's old photos have stood up very well. I have a box of my step father's slides but there is little of interest in them.

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    1. I find its the pictures of people and objects in the background that are of most lasting interest. The two here have neutral content and there are thousands of similar pictures around, but another of me in a boat with the kids is unique.
      Tynemouth is definitely worth a visit - it's on the Metro route. A walk along the South Shields pier looks inspiring too.

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  6. Wonderful.
    Text. Photos. Photo history: Fujichrome, Agfachrome.
    I am heading for Tynemouth Pier when I un-self-isolate.

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    1. Thank you. Don't forget Kodachrome and Ektachrome.
      Walking half a mile out to sea on a narrow sea wall is quite inspiring. I guess they are really sea walls or breakwaters rather than piers, but they seem to be called piers.

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  7. I scanned he family slides. If anyone is interested, it won't be in setting up the screen and projector. The most stable color was always Kodak 24ASA.

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    1. I thought Kodachrome a bit too orangey - the different films used slightly different dyes.

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  8. I have several photos that have turned mostly blue tinted. I print my own and I think the difference is either the XL size colour cartridge or the cartridge not having enough red and yellow left in it, but they came out okay to begin with and turned blue later, so I'm switching back to regular size cartridges just in case. my camera and printer are both Canon.

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    1. These are scanned straight from colour slides rather than prints. I find that prints last if they're printed professionally (or using the best quality materials if done at home) and stored well, but I'm banking on digital being the best long-term solution. Pre-digital images could well become the photographic dark ages.

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  9. It all looks complicated to me. But like most people have gone through the range of cameras from the year dot. Polaroid faded which is a nuisance but our little handheld cameras work well. The colour fading or leaving one outstanding colour in your photos is very artistic.

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    1. My mother's Polaroids are terrible. It was always an ephemeral technology. All those people walking about holding bits of wet cardboard at weddings!

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  10. All of my photos from the 70s have now turned orange.

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    1. Sounds like a similar problem. I bet yours are on Kodachrome which was fairly orange to begin with.

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    2. Those could also be fixed if they were scanned and color-corrected in Lightroom or Photoshop!

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  11. Brings back memories of Tynemouth pier for me, slides, and camera nerds of the 1970s when suddenly all the boys had to have a Zenith B although I note you mention a Zenith E, perhaps that one was even more nerdy. Even with my Kodak Instamatic I took slides. Mad. I have now destroyed them all on the basis of too many memories and like Weave said, who would be interested in them after I'm gone anyway.

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    1. Zenith E had a built in lightmeter and a slightly better lens. They were still crap. My Brownie black and white negatives have the best quality and most detailed images.
      Tynemouth pier/jetty/breakwater/sea wall whatever it is, is a fantastic place to walk.

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  12. An interesting post which I enjoyed reading. I have never been to Tynemouth. The piers look so dramatic and strong - reaching out into The North Sea like the mouth of a great dragon. My step grandfather Foster Morris was a shipwright on the Tyne and all of the ships he helped to construct would have sailed out of the dragon's mouth.

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    1. They were built by the Victorians and took nearly half a century to complete. Worth a special visit to tick off a new Geograph square.

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  13. We never did slides in my family, so I know nothing about them. I do know, however, that we bought a hoarder's house and they were filled with boxes of pictures, slides and home movies, and all the equipment and projectors needed. We were at a loss at what to do with them. Amazingly, in sorting through the rubble, I found a paper written in a childish hand. I recognized the name, and called the person. He came with his sister and took all of it. (And there was a LOT of it) Winner, winner, chicken dinner.

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    1. Now they are wondering what to do with it! So much of this once-treasured stuff is going to be thrown away in the end, as commenters above have said. At least digital doesn't take up physical space.

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    2. The story is a sad one, really. They had no pictures at all of themselves as children, none of their mother (who died while they were still young), none of their mother's side of the family at all. Their childhoods were very chaotic, and they were so very thrilled to have these things. We got quite a nice card from them. They were so grateful. The old machinery worked, and they watched their mother moving and playing with them.

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    3. I can see now why they wanted them. It must have been absolutely mind boggling. We had some old cine films digitised after an uncle died. I'm in them several times as a child along with my parents, brother and other relatives. They are truly priceless.

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  14. I think some of the blame may lie with the processing. I have film negatives and prints that have deteriorated over the years, and others that have stayed very stable -- it's pretty much all Kodak film but the processing quality varied. (I didn't do it myself!)

    I was able to restore your very blue photo of the ship without too much trouble in Adobe Lightroom. I uploaded it and clicked "auto" under white balance and that got it more or less right; I then increased the green tones a bit and voila. Not professional but tolerable.

    I wouldn't even begin to know how to address that second pic of the horses, though. I've never seen slides discolor that way, from the outside in. That DOES seem like it might have to do with their storage, in addition to perhaps not being "fixed" well enough during processing. (Just a guess -- I really don't know how slides are processed.)

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    1. It does make one wonder whether the processing wasn't quite up to scratch at times.
      I've received a few tips on how to correct with Photoshop, which I plan to try and post an update, but I have to get out an old computer because my Photoshop version won't run on this new one. I'll add a postscript here later in the week.

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  15. I enjoyed reading of your experience with slides. I have hundreds of slides from the 60's through the 90's. The more recent ones are in better shape but not all are perfect. Many of the older ones have a slight purple tint similar to the one you have. I think many factors affected them such as air, heat and especially moisture. A few of my older ones have small bits of mildew. I'm not sure how my mother stored the older ones but probably not in the best way.

    I did not know that Kodachrome had a tendency to look orange. That makes sense because I have quite a few color photos from the 50's on Kodachrome that have a very strong yellow-orange tint over them. I have been able to get much of it out with photo editing but it was time consuming so I only did the best photos.

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    1. One has to select the slides that are worth spending time on. Scenery such as I posted here ais easily found elsewhere, but slides of people are unique.
      I've always thought Kodakchrome orange, Fujichrome blue and Agrachrome possibly green. It's down to differences in the dyes they used, but you have to bear in mind that my colour vision is not standard.

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