I am very glad to be joined today by the most amazing restoration artist I know, Janine Smith.
Janine, thank you for taking the time to participate.
Thanks so much for having me!
How did you get into photo restoration?
It was a bit of a circuitous route, actually. Once upon a time, I was a photo-realistic portrait artist. At the time, the big money was in art fairs, so I tried my hand at that. The trouble was the venue demanded quick work and, well, I’m such a perfectionist that I was slower than molasses in January. So that career was pretty much out.
Fast forward a few (plus a few more) years and I was working at the corporate headquarters of the largest health provider in Texas as a research analyst. I’d just gone through a divorce and working at the corporate level, being the shark pool mental challenge it is, it was all just, well, killing me. I realized I had to get out and thought this would be a great time to start my own business!
I knew, of course, that smart people don’t quit a high paying job to start a business from scratch, but my smarts were in low reserves at that time. After a lot of trial and error, trying to do to much and be all things, I felt that my path lay in my love of art, history and research, so I went into the genealogical services industry, of which photo restoration is a part and it fit right in, perfectly. I discovered that my talent at photo-realism in my art, along with the anatomy I studied as part of my portrait work, made me that much better at restoring photographs (it helps to know the arm doesn’t attach to the shoulder at the elbow, for instance. I’m not being flip when I say that – I’ve seen it done!)
Which aspect of it is your favorite? Why?
Actually, my favorite part is making people cry. For instance, a woman came to pick up her photos the other day, restorations I’d done on three negatives she’d found in an old box in the attic. Her mother thought they might be photos of this woman’s Grandfather, whom she’d never even seen a picture of due to some sad circumstance. They were, and I was given the opportunity to see her look at her Grandfather face for the first time. That, my friend, is simply the best!
Do you think the story behind the photo you are restoring is important?
In a purely technical sense, the story behind the photo isn’t particularly important, I suppose, but it is very important to me! I guess a lot of that stems from my love of history and an insatiable curiosity, but I love to think about all aspects of the photo I’m restoring, who are these people, what were they like, what are their names, how do they relate to the client? I always ask who the people are and for as much information as the person can give. I’m also not above making up a story if nothing much is known.
What is the tool for restoration that doesn’t exist but you would like to see?
I really can’t think of one! If there’s a challenge in a particular photo, it forces me to be creative and look to other methods and other disciplines to meet that challenge! One thing I learned very quickly: Use the common “restoration tools”, of course, but don’t hobble yourself to using only those tools. I try to keep on top of techniques and tools, like plugins, used for many different disciplines, such as photography or retouching, to see if there’s anything I can use in restoration.
What is your daily inspiration? Who are your influences?
My number one influence is my mother, who’s also my business partner. She’s stuck with our business enterprise like glue for a lot of years. She never let me give up the dream through the tough times, of which there have been many. She never let me quit. As for daily inspiration, that would most definitely be my ancestors. When I start to get down or a bit scared looking at a particular challenge, I think how can I be afraid of something so trivial? It’s not like I’m getting on a ship in 1629 and coming to a completely unknown country! It’s not like I’m leaving everything I ever knew to come live in a city packed with 700 people per acre! Seriously, my ancestors really tend to keep my life in perspective!
Thank you for taking the time! Do you have any closing thoughts to share?
Just to never stop growing, never stop learning, always strive to be better in all ways and always look forward while never taking yours eyes off the past. Oh, and get all those old family photos out of the boxes, drawers, attics and cellars and onto digital media sooner, rather than later or you won’t have that past to keep an eye on!
Thank you, Erik, for asking me to be a part of your wonderful interview series!