Accepting the Challenge
The monumental challenge of restoring the negatives was accepted by Earth Resources
Observation Systems (EROS) Data Center, a data management, systems development,
and research field center for the USGS. "We also maintain part of the
archive of digital imagery," according to Mike Austad, Digital Data Specialist
and industrial photographer at EROS. Restoring the damaged images was beneficial
all the way around, says Austad, since the USGS needed historical photos, and
"The Blue Cloud Abbey wanted to tap our knowledge on archiving and preserving
the data that was there."
member of the tribal police, photographed at Father Ambrose Mattingly's
Austad was in charge of restoring
the images. Fungus on the emulsion was only one of the challenges that EROS
initially faced, he says, as they had been stored in a basement for so long.
Not to mention that "acid between the plates had started to eat away at
the emulsion and the glass plates were broken," adds Napier. According
to Austad, "Rather than trying to clean the negatives, which would damage
the emulsion further, we decided to scan them." He added, "I noticed
that they were in glass plates. The photographer did a good job."
native American boys.
He noted that many of the images
were "lantern slides," photos that were produced in the 1900s by
developing positive images photographically, and then handpainting them with
an organic dye or tinting process. Lantern slides were sandwiched between two
glass covers and placed in a mat. The slides were projected in a "magic
lantern," which was a slide projection system illuminated by kerosene
or coal oil lamps, and then shown on a wall. Austad says less than half of these
slides have been restored thus far.
couple from the Big Bend area of the Crow Creek Reservation, posing
in traditional dress.
After scanning the negatives on
a flat-bed scanner at 1600 dpi to get an archival file, Austad scaled the working
files down to 300 or 400 dpi before he brought them into Photoshop. "In
this instance, the images are for historical reference, so we didn't want
to add anything that wasn't originally there. It was very painstaking.
A minimal amount of work was done to preserve accurate historical content,"
he pointed out. Historians were also called in to look at the images, date them,
and identify items that were pictured.
In terms of restoration, Austad says, "I used the Cloning and Healing
tools mostly, as well as Layers. Some filters were used in a limited way--just
straight-up methods that anyone who used Photoshop would do." Over the
two years that Austad worked on these images, he says, he used Photoshop versions
6, 7 and CS. "Photoshop is a wonderful tool for doing any type of retouching
at all; it's a wonderful program."
Wicasa"--A Warrior Man. The rider's clothing
was worn in traditional native American dances.
An Ongoing Process
Austad burned the final images to CDs in high- and low-resolution printable
files and returned them to Blue Cloud Abbey. EROS also made prints on LightJet
and Fuji Pictography 3000 laser printers. Anything larger than 8x10 was output
on the LightJet printer. "Ultimately, we made 16x20 prints for Blue Cloud
Abbey," says Austad. "Everything actually belongs to them and the
The 377 glass plate negatives are now part of a larger collection of over 50,000
images that Benedictine monks gathered as they traveled through the Dakota territory
ministering to tribal communities. However, there's still a large remainder
of images that haven't yet been restored and scanned, says Napier. "We're
doing a little strategy on how to move this project forward." He adds
that the USGS is seeking a grant to finish restoring these remaining images,
which, according to Napier, are more of a challenge than the others because
they're older and more damaged. "We'll find a way, but we
need help," he says. "There are definitely issues, but we'd
like to find a way to restore them. It will take time."
Horse" and his grandson. This is an example of a lantern
slide, which was developed, hand-painted, and projected in a "Magic
Lantern," illuminated by lamps.
Bridging the Gap
Around the first of August, 2004, these images will be shipped back to South
Dakota, where they'll appear at various events held at Indian reservations
throughout the state, says Napier. Some are still on display at Blue Cloud Abbey.
The compelling images found at the Abbey and restored by the USGS preserve a
wealth of history that the masses and more importantly, Native Americans, can
enjoy for years to come. They go a long way in telling part of our country's
story. As Gene Napier points out, "So much Native American history was
orally passed on, and these images help bridge the gap."