Revived negatives

In 2021 due to one of the current leading-edge digitalisation technologies, damaged negatives were digitalised contactless instead of scanning. In this way, several valuable and unique items of our collection were made visible again and put back into the researchers’ horizon.

The earliest glass negatives of the approximately 75 000 glass negatives in the Museum of Ethnography’s photo collection date from the last decades of the 19th century. Most of them are gelatine dry plates which were developed and started to be produced in the 1870s. This method had led to the massification and renewal of photography. (read more: Kincses Károly: Történeti Fotóeljárások Magyarországon (Historical Photographic Procedures in Hungary) Gelatine dry plate immediately appeared in the studios of the open-minded Hungarian photographers and factories became specialized in its production in several cities of the country.

We do not have centuries of experience regarding the durability of raw materials, but the last nearly 150 years have proven that -if the storage conditions are right- it is one of the most durable photonegatives compared to many later and more modern media. However, if the raw material was not properly fixed during the photo development, if the chemical processes which are necessary for the image to appear were not completed, or if the glass negative was exposed to extreme environmental conditions for a long period of time at the photographer's premises or at the museum where the image was kept, the emulsion could have been damaged or deteriorated in various ways. This happened to dozens of the museum’s negatives which were separated from the glass plates that made up the bulk of the material, because our predecessors wanted to protect them from further damage, but in this way they made them “invisible” and unsearchable for decades.

In 2021 due to one of the current leading-edge digitalisation technologies damaged negatives were digitalised contactless instead of scanning. In this way several valuable and unique items of our collection were made visible again and put back into the researchers’ horizon. The photographs of János Jankó from 1894-95 are particularly significant, they were taken during the preparatory work for the Millennium Village of the Millennial National Exhibition, which we had only known from contemporary paper photographs, which were heavily faded and lacking in detail. This is also true for the outdoor photographs of Gyorgy Haranghy and Rezso Kollo which were taken in 1910 and for the studio pictures of photographers working in various parts of the country, which were not at all accessible due to the lack of negative reproduction or positive enlargement. The damaged photos have been finally returned to the active photo collection and a part of them can be viewed online in the museum's public database.

Text: Hanga Gebauer