Researchers Uncover Hidden Details In Lost Images From The 19th Century

Posted: Jun 23 2018, 11:05am CDT | by , in Latest Science News


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Researchers Uncover Hidden Details in Lost Images from the 19th Century
A degraded daguerreotype image from 19th century. Credit: Western University

Using X-ray beams, researchers are able to recover fragile images

Researchers have found a way to uncover details of centuries-old degraded images. They used tiny X-ray beams to restore two lost images that would have been otherwise impossible to recreate.

The images were taken as early as 1850 and involved daguerreotypes, the earliest form of photography that used silver plates. One image shows the outline of a woman while the other belongs to a man. However, both images were no longer visible due to tarnish and other damage.

“It's somewhat haunting because they are anonymous and yet it is striking at the same time," said lead author Madalena Kozachuk from Western University. “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 tablecloth."

Daguerreotype was the first commercial photographic process in which highly polished silver-coated copper plates were used. Subjects had to pose without moving for few minutes until the image imprints on the plate. It was later developed as a photograph using a mercury vapor. However, daguerreotype images are very delicate and their plates easily tarnish if exposed to air.

For years, researchers have been trying to learn more about chemical changes that damage daguerreotypes. They are able to identify many types of degradation and also understand how degraded images can be restored again. Using rapid-scanning micro-X-ray fluorescence, researchers analyzed the plates and detected traces of mercury on them. The novel technique allowed researchers to recover centuries-old images from these plates.

"Mercury is the major element that contributes to the imagery captured in these photographs. Even though the surface is tarnished, those image particles remain intact. By looking at the mercury, we can retrieve the image in great detail.” Co-author Tsun-Kong said.

Researchers believe that perhaps millions of daguerreotypes were created in the 19th century and many of them are not recognizable anymore. With the latest technique, researchers can uncover details hidden beneath the tarnish and contribute to the historical record.

"There are a lot of interesting questions that at this stage of our knowledge can only be answered by a sophisticated scientific approach," said co-author McElhone. "A conservator's first step is to have a full and complete understanding of what the material is and how it is assembled on a microscopic and even nanoscale level. We want to find out how the chemicals are arranged on the surface and that understanding gives us access to theories about how degradation happens and how that degradation can possibly or possibly not be reversed."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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