Ellis Island, circa 1922

Twenty-five years ago, my uncle George, who at the time was my dad’s sole surviving brother, came to me with a 2″ x 2″ Ellis Island immigration/passport photo of my grandmother, grandfather, father and a long-departed uncle.  The photo was in tatters, nearly destroyed.  It was ripped in half and held together with yellowed tape. Knowing I was a photographer, George asked if I could restore it.   I told him that I’d try.

Rossman_Family-immigration-My father, Ben, is sitting in his father’s lap.  The baby was my late uncle Heschie (Hal, in America) sitting in my grandmother, Eva’s, lap.  While my three-year-old dad was absolutely recognizable, I had never seen an image of my grandparents in their youth.  I wouldn’t have known them from Adam (or Eve ;o).  I was enthralled.

That began a year-long project to make the little photo whole again.   The project forced me to learn Photoshop out of a book and by trial and error. It really did take a year, stealing 4 or 5 hours a week, when I was already working 80+ at our start-up.  I joke with people now, saying, “If I were to do the same project today, it would take 45 minutes.” Okay, that’s probably not true, but it wouldn’t take more than a day.  Here’s the end result.

Rossman Family Immigration photo - Final - photoshop restoration by Steve Rossman

Parts of the photo, like my dad’s shirt collar and baby Hal’s face, were painted in, added pixel by pixel, a complete work of fiction. The image doesn’t look like it should have taken a year, but it did.  And it proved to be a great reason to learn Photoshop.  When I finished the photo, I started playing with Photoshop filters. The image grid below was the result.

Anyone who’s passed through our home has seen these two photos in our kitchen.
Twenty-five years later, I still look at them almost every day.

Fam-composit4-wi orig copySomeone whose name I really should remember, famously said  “Necessity is the mother of invention.”  To my mind, the practical application of that thought is in knowing that the best way to learn anything is to have a tangible project and the need for a creative solution. My wife, Jonna, the best teacher I know, practices that with every class.

And by the way, the quote, according to good ol’ Google and Wikipedia, is Plato’s, from a dialog in “The Republic.”  Wouldn’t have been my first guess…


Steve Rossman - Trade show exhibit photography

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