Digital Restoration Work

BEFORE AND AFTER: ‘Clown Photographer’ - an early 19th-century hand-painted “panoramic” magic-lantern slide in the Kent MOMI collection

BEFORE AND AFTER: ‘Clown Photographer’ - an early 19th-century hand-painted “panoramic” magic-lantern slide in the Kent MOMI collection

One of several happy things to occur on the exciting first day of our opening, on 27th April 2018, was the arrival on the Museum doorstep of a distinguished-looking gentleman in a stylish tweed coat, clutching several carrier bags full of shopping.

“Hello, I’ve just crossed over from Sainsbury’s and noticed your large placard saying MUSEUM OF THE MOVING IMAGE! I did a double take. This I must see. I can’t stay for long; I must get rid of my shopping, but I’ll be back.”

Thus began one of the most wonderful volunteer journeys of our first year. John MacLellan (for it was he) came back promptly (minus the carrier bags), keen to buy a ticket and peruse the Museum exhibits, during which he noticed a call for volunteers. It was just a short journey from introductions to friendship. A subsequent visit to his home revealed a man of considerable restorative and creative talents, a professional photographer for most of his working life and also, for over twenty years, a modest dealer in small antiques.

What really stirred our interest was his work restoring amateur black-and-white images which he had acquired during his time in antiques. This is a wonderful collection covering the first fifty years of the twentieth century, a cross-section of social history with topics including: aircraft, motor transport, the First and Second World Wars, steam trains, airships, early industry, and much more.

John’s perfectionist approach to what he undertakes follows through into his own present-day photography. Although some of his work is the traditional image, his passion is in producing what he calls PosterGraphs - not exactly photographs, but beautiful luminous images - with which we fell in love.

Fast-forward a little to mid-summer 2018, where, after talking with John about the possibilities of using Photoshop to restore some of our badly damaged Victorian magic lantern slides, the first few restored examples he produced confirmed to us that he is exactly the right person to undertake such critical and demanding work.

And so it was that, for the next few months, John spent hours in his studio, patiently bringing back to life some of our most valued magic lantern slide images. Such was the quality of his work that we were able to reproduce them as greeting cards, of which we are inordinately proud, not only for the Museum but for the images themselves.

As a result of the success with greetings cards, we are now considering other possibilities for bringing these unique images to a much wider audience - not only with cards, but with calendars and prints of various sizes. Also, we see no reason why John’s digital images might not be turned back into lantern slide performances, to allow our modern audiences the experience of the lantern shows just as their 19th-century forebears would have enjoyed them when the slides were new.

What of the immediate future? Of the first batch of lantern slides John copied, about half have still to be restored. Those he first worked on were by far the most seriously damaged or, as with “slipper” slides, the most demanding. He is still a practising photographer, longing to continue work on his PosterGraphs. The restoration of his collection of amateur black-and-white images is ongoing, and, if that were not enough, he has a collection of about sixty bonsai to tend.

Along with our growing family of volunteers, John is a valued member of our team, and we look forward with enthusiastic anticipation to the next example of his skills - and all because of a computer…in the right hands.

Joss Marsh (Curator), February 2019
Restoration comparisons by John MacLellan