PhD student and Saskatoon's CLS work to lift veil of time and save lost images

Madalena Kozachuk’s latest effort, using rapid-scanning micro-X-rays, was able to see through the clouded originals to find portraits that may have been taken as early as 1850. The results are published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Photos 'beyond reclamation' find new life

The portraits that Kozachuk was able to reveal are anonymous, and may have been taken as early as 1850. (National Gallery of Canada)

A PhD student with ties to Saskatoon's Canadian Light Source synchrotron is finding success in trying to save images captured by the earliest form of photography, the daguerreotype process.

"When in good condition they are stunning images," said Western University chemistry student Madalena Kozachuk in an interview with CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.

Madalena Kozachuk says the love of art is what pushes her in her scientific to better understand not only how to reveal old images, but to be able to restore the originals. (Paul Mayne )

Lost images revealed

Kozachuk's latest effort, using rapid-scanning micro-X-rays at the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source, was able to see through the obscured, clouded originals to find portraits that may have been taken as early as 1850 and produce copies. The results are published in the journal Scientific Reports.

"These were samples that were provided by the National Gallery of Canada that were, in this case, felt were probably beyond reclamation," said Ian Coulthard, a researcher at the Canadian Light Source.

Pulling clear images hidden by the veil of time is, historically, an important discovery, but it is just part of the work that Kozachuk is doing. At the heart of her research is finding better ways to reclaim daguerreotype images so that the originals can again be viewed.

"Similar to your silverware in your kitchen at home, these over time tend to tarnish and fog and so the original images often get lost," she explained.

This is the work she has done in Saskatoon, probing deep into the aging process to better understand exactly what is destroying these images and how to save them.

"The hope was that the flexibility of the synchrotron would allow Madalena and the people at the National Gallery of Canada to initially determine exactly what was going on in the processes that caused this fogging and tarnishing so they could develop better ways to clean and restore these photographs," said Coulthard.

"In our case what we were trying to be is a solution provider."

The goal for Kozachuk now is to be able to restore these sorts of images to that the originals can again be viewed and displayed. (National Gallery of Canada)

Restoring originals 

Kozachuk said that her work is continuing at her home campus of Western University. The PhD student is now exploring the use of electrical current in cleaning up old images. For Kozachuk this pursuit combines her love of science, with her interest in art.

"It's always been a deep love of mine," she said.

"It makes going to the office extremely exciting every day. It's something that gives me great fuel to pursue new information to uncover these images."

with files from Saskatoon Morning