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Photo Restorer

As the population ages, people are becoming increasingly interested in antiques and links to their own pasts.

Peeking into some boxes in the attic or clearing out an elderly relative's basement can provide valuable information about a family's history. Because history means old, and because old things are often forgotten, photo restoration is a growing market.

People often dig up old portraits that have not been preserved over the years. They can hire a professional to restore the image to its original quality.

Cherie Yannone-Hasemann is the president and webmaster of A Stroke of Genius Photographic Restoration in Forked River, New Jersey.

She and her husband are the sole employees. They got into the business after spending a year restoring their own photographs. What began as a hobby for the couple has grown into a profitable business, attracting clients from down the road and as far away as Australia.

Yannone-Hasemann says she has worked in graphic arts and design since high school. Her experience with computers allowed the company to go global in August 1999. They have watched their business increase ever since.

"Listed with most major search engines, we receive over 90 percent of our clients from the Internet now," she says.

But the business was growing even before the website was up and running.

"It started slowly on a local level. With great advertising and word-of-mouth referrals, we grossed almost $20,000 our first year without really trying. After going on the Internet, we expanded our sales nearly twice."

Yannone-Hasemann attributes the company's success to the clients' interest in their own family histories. "With the public's expansion into genealogy and the quest for their roots, our business grows larger daily. We anticipate the market will continue to expand as more people discover lost images, and realize the services that are available to restore them."

Specializing in antique images, A Stroke of Genius has restored some of the first types of photographs made, including tintypes and daguerreotypes.

"However, we have restored every type of image at some point -- negatives, slides, Polaroids, glass mounts, glass slides and, of course, photographs."

But as Yannone-Hasemann discovered recently, not all images can be restored. "Until several weeks ago, we had not encountered anything we couldn't repair. We found an image that was so badly degraded that full restoration was not possible. We were able to restore most of the image, but some features could not be recovered."

She goes on to explain what is possible with restoration. "Out of focus originals cannot be 'refocused.' We can remove superimposures, delete people, add people, add or remove objects and backgrounds, change lighting, remove flashback, remove red eye, clear up any type of blemish or scar, [and] even fix a bad hair day."

What tools are required to do all this? Photo restoration can be done in the darkroom. But digital restoration is on the rise.

Yannone-Hasemann describes the process as simply as she can: "We scan the images into the computer, using various scanning devices depending upon the original image type. We manipulate the images through over a dozen different programs until the quality required is achieved," she says.

"We can print various sizes on high-quality, acid-free photographic paper or heavily textured linen finished artist paper."

She has some advice for any would-be photo restorers. "Have an artistic talent to begin with. Be a perfectionist. Be detail-oriented and have patience. Work on your own images and those of friends and family. Perfect your skills and, above all, listen to what the client really wants, not what you believe they want."

Fred Priest is a photographer. For him, an artistic background is a must for anyone doing restoration work. Priest restores photos at a commercial photography studio.

Priest says he has restored images from the late 1800s. He understands the motivation of his clients. "These days, it's a lot of people finding ancestor's photos in garages and basements. They've been neglected for umpteen years, and all of a sudden they feel the desire to have them restored."

Priest believes business is constant enough to provide continuous challenges.

Priest is an artist who drifted into restoration after a friend got him into photography. His sense of color has definitely helped his skills. With experience in pastel, oil paints, airbrushing and commercial art, Priest also colors photographs by hand.

Because he is used to working manually, Priest tried digital restoration, but eventually drifted back to his old style. He says you can achieve the same results with either technique. It's just a different method of working.

Fees vary, he says, because clients are paying for the time it takes to restore an image. Priest estimates services at his company can range from $50 to several hundred dollars to restore a photograph.

Jamie Landau of Old to New Photos in New York agrees that fees can vary greatly. Landau charges a set fee and then adds an hourly rate. Old to New Photos began as a hobby, but the inexpensive online start-up inspired Landau to become self-employed.

Backed with a business degree, Landau estimates the company has grown 350 percent since it began.

For Landau, beginning as a hobby was a great way to get into the business. Patience turned restoration into a lucrative career. "Practice and be patient. You don't learn overnight."


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