Journey Through Time: Restoring the Hidden Gems of San Lorenzo
January 24 2024
Embarking on an extraordinary journey, I find myself entrusted with a unique mission – the restoration of a small collection of photographic glass plates capturing life in the quaint village of San Lorenzo, Italy, around 1900. Discovered in Vancouver, Canada, these delicate artifacts hold within them the untold stories of a bygone era. The owners of this visual time capsule, have entrusted them temporarily to my care. My task is to delicately recover the images held on each fragile plate.
Preserving Fragile History:
Handling these delicate glass plates becomes a dance between caution and passion. Each plate, adorned with scratches and missing emulsion, demands the utmost care. Dusting off the layers of time, I feel the weight of responsibility as I transport these fragile pieces into the present, preparing them for a journey through restoration.
The uniqueness of this collection lies in its stereoscopic design, capturing dual images simultaneously. Armed with the necessary technology and a deep appreciation for the historical significance of each frame, I meticulously photograph both the left and right images from every plate. In the quiet solitude of my studio, these images become digital puzzle pieces waiting to be artfully overlaid, merging seamlessly. When the two images are merged, I am able to make the scratches and damage go away, telling the tale of San Lorenzo.
Before and After
The first image shows the scratches, dirt and missing chunks of emulsion. Once the pair of images are blended together, that damage can be removed leaving the undamaged image as shown on the right. If you would like to actually see this being done, I've created this short video clip.
A Glimpse into San Lorenzo's Past:
As the merged images come to life on my computer screen, the streets of San Lorenzo awaken with a vibrancy long forgotten. The smiles of children and adults, the horse-drawn wagons navigating dirt roads, and the absence of modern vehicles transport me to a simpler time. In every scratched surface and missing chunk of emulsion, I discover the marks of a community that once thrived in simplicity.
One photograph, in particular, draws me into the daily life of San Lorenzo. A woman, adorned in a long dress, guides her ox cart along the street, with her husband enjoying the leisurely ride on atop the wagon. The absence of motorized vehicles underscores a time when the rhythmic clattering of hooves and the patient plodding of oxen defined the pace of life.
A Glimpse of Pre-War Life:
The presence of Italian soldiers scattered throughout the images hints at the imminent upheaval of World War I. Each soldier frozen in time becomes a silent witness to the community on the brink of historical transformation. These photographs not only capture smiles and simple pleasures but also foreshadow the challenges that lie ahead.
Restoring this collection of photographic glass plates has become a personal odyssey, an intimate exploration of a village frozen in time. With each scratch repaired and every missing piece delicately reconstructed, I feel a profound connection to the past. Through my lens and the digital canvas, San Lorenzo's story unfolds, inviting us to appreciate the beauty of life in a small Italian village and the resilience of memories preserved through the art of restoration. The restored images are being returned to a historian for the village of San Lorenzo. More than a century later, they are going home.