Obsession, Time and Retouching

What an off-the-wall title.

But you have to be obsessed…when time is working against you.

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A single page from my Grandmother’s precious photo album

Retouching faded or damaged family photographs can become a labor of love.

Perhaps the finished product is meaningless to people outside of your family.  Maybe to some within your own family as well.  But somehow, you become obsessed with it because in spite what others feel, you know in your heart it is important… and perhaps more important as the years roll by.

Family members come into this world, live, then pass on.  How did they live?  Where?  What was it like “back then”?

That’s my mission.  To leave hints of what it was like for my descendants as well as interested family.

To let others see what “they” looked like.  How “they” smiled.  How “they” grew up.

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The first snapshot above is but a page from my Grandmother Kono’s photo album.

Brittle pages.  Photos that were lovingly pasted onto those pages by my Grandmother.  Photos now eaten by insects.  Faded.  Damaged.

Now is the time.  Restore and retouch.  Hundreds of them.  That’s the mission.  Before all knowledge of their lives disappear.

They are disappearing today.

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Having but free software, the retouching being done is surely amateur.  Basic at the best.  I wish I could afford professional software but then again, there would be a tremendous learning curve.  Make do with what you have…as “they” did.

And when you finish one photograph, you receive gifts.  Gifts of seeing what would have been lost.  Lost to their descendents forever.

Here is one example from that page:

(L to R) Suetaro, my dad, Aunt Shiz and an unknown friend. Circa 1923 at 620 S. King Street in Seattle, WA.

While the detail is surely not “lost”, it is hard to make out things.  The print is small to begin with; a quarter was placed for size reference.

But after restoring and retouching, some fun things come into clearer view – especially if there is a companion print to compare with:

In another pose on the same album page, you can see both my dad and Suetaro were holding food in their hands and dad had a bandaged thumb.  Here, after restoration, you can more clearly see the food but it blends into his bandaged thumb which would have been hard to separate.  I’m pretty sure Dad is eating an “onigiri” or rice ball, likely wrapped in seaweed.  Uncle Suetaro had already devoured his.  Minor detail, yes.  But now we have an idea of what Grandmother fed them in Seattle while growing up.

Aunt Shiz…well, it appears she would rather have been playing with her friend but we know she wore a uniform to school.  And she has a hair clip.  Berets for boys were in fashion, also, it seems.  Funny as Dad doesn’t like to wear hats much.  We also know that on that day, they wore very Western clothes…down to his overalls.

One barber pole is also different than the other.  When dad saw this today, for some reason, he just proudly blurted out, “620 S. King Street”, and very happily.  I think he was amazed at himself for remembering.  But the confirmation of the address came from retouching the print.  He also said, “That’s wood (referring to the sidewalk),” implying he doesn’t remember a wooden sidewalk.  But I mentioned to him it was cement when you look at it carefully and he was happy that he wasn’t a “pumpkin head”.

From this retouched print, Dad also added one startling comment out of the blue.  He said a number of “hakujin”, or Caucasians, came to the shop, even though it was in “Japanese Town”.  I asked him why.  His reply was, “I don’t know…  but Japanese are more attentive, I guess, than the other barbers…especially in shaving.”  I know what he means.

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So all this “stuff” came from retouching a faded photo… Things that would have been otherwise lost.  Face it.  Dad isn’t the little boy eating that onigiri anymore.  But he still eats like a horse.  A good sign.  Aunt Shiz didn’t feel like eating much the day she quietly passed away.

Obsession and time.

And time is running out.

29 thoughts on “Obsession, Time and Retouching”

  1. Mustang.Koji this fascinated me! And I am not family. I can so powerfully relate to your wonderings about your family. I love what you “see” in the picture – beyond the four beautiful children standing there. You see their life. And you share that moment with your father today. What a great gift you are giving every one. I am enjoying this journey of yours!

      1. Since your mother isn’t here, you two should go find a room… LOL! I think we all like each other. Maybe a hotel is in order…perhaps on the French Riviera???? 🙂

      2. Why the sad face? You should visit Ireland. It is breathtaking. And I do mean it steals your breath. Literally. And figuratively. You should be prepared to leave your heart there as well.

      3. Mustang.Koji!!!! Ireland will be there for a very long time! So will you, be here, I mean, for a very long time. If you WANT that to happen you will MAKE it happen! Confidence good sir!

  2. Fabulous! Family history is an incredible journey into “why” and “who are their parents and when did they come here”

  3. You’re on a fantastic and rewarding journey. I believe there is great comfort to a person’s soul to be able to stay connected to the past and pass on some of the past.

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