Vintage 1920′s portrait in nouveau paper frame: faded paper, silvered photo….woman with bob haircut.

I’m “guessing” we’re looking at mid 1920′s here?  The waved bob hair, the style of the paper frame, the cut of the drop-waste dress…….and oh, about that 1920′s bob!  I just read a super article about 1920 hair styles…….oh, ladies………  And another fun article:  http://www.hairarchives.com/private/1920s.htm  “ Tears and smelling salts accompanied the sacrifice as shorn cascades of crowning glories tumbled to the floors of barbershops. “

“If you wake up some winter morning to find the air cold and dry and your hair too straight, try coaxing it to curl by steaming it. You can do so in one of several ways.One means is by folding a newspaper, cornucopia fashion, placing the smaller end in the spout of a steaming teakettle, and holding your head in the steam as it escapes from the larger end….”

Fern Kessler’s portrait came my way via my friend Ed Closson who has quite the collection of Depression-Era photography.  This one is rather unusual in that the sitter is identified.  I think probably 80% of what Ed has shared with me has no identification.  Poor little orphan photos.

Fern’s portrait is beginning to silver out quite a bit, which is very, very common in images from this time period.  In my scanned image, the silvering looks a bit like fuzzy grey highlights.  If you hold the original to a bright light and tilt the photo at an angle, you will see the grey areas actually have a metallic sheen to them.  To read more about silvering, I recommend this excellent article by David Rudd at Cycleback….  For a person viewing the original, the silvering process can be quite distracting and rather upsetting if the image is treasured because the process results in loss of image detail and further detracts from the better parts of the image.

For a graphic artist working on silvered photos, there is only so much you can do with the image.  Success depends on the overall level of silvering.  In this example, the silvering interferes mostly with the sitter’s hair and the darker areas of the image, which have taken on a pitted, pocked look.  My revived version balances the colouring out a bit, brings back some details, and evens out the overall appearance.  I’ve retained quite a bit of the silvering texture and foxing due to personal preference (I like the reminder that the original photo has age and a history all it’s own.)  In the enlarged version below, the texture really shows up.  If I had planned to enlarge her, I would have smoothed it out a bit more, but to print her out to original size, it’ll be perfect.

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I elected to keep the image in her wonderful paper card.  If I was going to frame her, I’d keep the card as part of the complete image because it has such a stylized design and further conveys the style associated with the portrait’s time period.  Was the original paper this shade of green?  I’m not sure.  But it was probably pretty close.

Do you have a fondness for Depression Era portraits?  Ed and I have digitized his collection that includes the image featured in this post.  Follow this link to find them and don’t forget to add a comment if you see anything that strikes your fancy!

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