Scans, Old Pictures and the German Grand Prix

I do love old pictures. I’m not talking about films or movies, I mean actual pictures, old photographs. It’s amazing what we can do with old photographs these days in the world of digital images. We can scan them, remove blemishes, colourise black and white pictures, in fact we can do almost anything. I remember a recent documentary by director Peter Jackson which involved the restoration of old silent films from the trenches in World War 1. The films were cleaned and digitised, colourised and in some cases a lip reader was employed to try and surmise what those long dead soldiers were saying while the hand held camera was cranked. Computers removed the jerky motions and the result was genuinely amazing. I found myself so interested that I remembered a gadget I had bought a while back, a slide scanner with which I planned to scan and digitise my old colour slides. The results weren’t great and in fact I didn’t have quite as many slides as I thought I had but the results were interesting. I played with the device for a while, scanned a number of slides then moved on to some other project.

I dug the slide scanner out the other day and noticed that it was also possible to scan negatives. There is a holder supplied into which the negative strip fits securely. On the control panel a small box is selected for negative scan rather than colour slide and in a matter of seconds a digital image is produced.

I’ve scanned a lot of my old pictures although I’ve usually scanned them from a printed picture. This way, scanning from the original negative felt really interesting. One problem is that as the image is magnified any stray dust or hairs show up like a sore thumb so it’s important to clean the negatives first. I usually wipe them with a soft cloth which I normally use to clean my lenses then brush them with a small blower brush which sweeps free any dust and blows the offending material away.

I didn’t have any World War 1 material to restore but I did have a huge stack of photographs from the German Grand Prix of 1988. I was quite a keen photographer back then. I had an Olympus OM10 and graduated to an Olympus OM2 SP. SP stood for spot programming which was quite a significant piece of technology for 1988. SLR cameras come with built in light meters but what they do is take an average reading from the light coming into the camera and depending on your set up suggest either a shutter speed or lens aperture or even both. If the subject is evenly lit then that’s no problem but if your subject is in shadow with perhaps bright light from a window coming in stage left then the resulting picture might be too dark. With spot programming a light reading could be taken from the face of the subject so the face, the focal point of the shot would be exposed perfectly.

At the race track I didn’t have time to take spot meter readings, I probably had the camera set to auto or just used a similar setting for most of my shots. Not too fast a shutter as I didn’t want to freeze the cars, I did want a suggestion of speed. In the late 80s and early 90s I spent a lot of time at the Oulton Park circuit in Cheshire. Back then I knew every inch of Oulton Park. I knew where I could get close to the cars and where to get the most effective shots. I’d pick a point for my shot and get focussed then follow the cars round until they hit that exact spot and then fire the shutter. I must have hundreds of pictures of racing cars and one of the great things about the digital revolution is that now, instead of lying unseen in an album, my photographs have been seen by thousands of people over on the picture sharing site Flickr.

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Ayrton Senna in his McLaren Honda. Practice laps for the German Grand Prix

Getting back to Formula 1, I tended to visit Silverstone for the British Grand Prix on Friday practice or Saturday qualifying, soak up the atmosphere and then go home to watch the race on Sunday at home on my TV. Visiting the 1988 German Grand Prix gave me a chance to see everything; practice, qually and visit the stalls selling motorsport memorabilia and, this being Germany, sample a sausage or two. The Grand Prix was held at Hockenheim which has a great stadium section where most of the spectators gather then the track snakes off into the German countryside. Somewhere in that countryside is a sad memorial to Jim Clark, killed here in 1968 at a Formula 2 event.

I journeyed to Hockenheim on a coach trip by a company specialising in sporting events. I had to get a train or coach into London then find the coach company and board ready for the trip to Germany.

The weather was excellent and just thinking about the trip brought back a number of things. 1988 was the first year of the Senna/Prost rivalry. It was also the year Williams lost their Honda engines to McLaren. Honda terminated their contract a year early with Williams because they were not amused that Frank Williams had let an inter team battle with their two drivers, Mansell and Piquet, hand the championship to Alain Prost at McLaren in 1986. Such a pity as if Williams and McLaren had both used Honda engines in 1988 there would have been an epic three-way battle between Senna, Prost and Mansell with Patrese in the second Williams perhaps getting into the action too. Sadly, it wasn’t to be.

Nigel Mansell in the Williams

During the practice session I had a ticket letting me wander about various enclosures. I was near where the cars came in to the stadium section and every time a Ferrari went through this big Italian guy would stand up and ring a big brass bell he was carrying. Ding a ding a ding a ding he rang, every time either Gerhard Berger or Michelle Alboretto came through. Every time I moved to the next spectator enclosure I would get settled, line up my shots then it would come: ding a ding a ding a ding! That Ferrari fan must have been following me about. Well, that’s my excuse for all those jerky shots!

I had spent a lot of money buying myself an Olympus OM2 SP but perhaps I should have spent some extra money on my lenses. I had a great Olympus 50mm lens and a great wide-angle lens too but my zooms and telephoto lenses were a little on the cheap side and I think if I had shelled out a little more money that would have been reflected in my pictures.

My first scans were not that good. I’d cleaned the film as I mentioned but perhaps there had been some dust or hairs in the camera. It was only later after I had spent time cleaning up each individual scan that I realised the dust might be in the scanner!

I’m tempted now to delete them all and rescan them. Oh well, might keep me out of mischief for a while. Meanwhile, here’s a video slideshow using some of the pictures. I’ve added in some snippets of the 1988 TV commentary just to liven things up a little.

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