Sure, the idea that historians and archivists are like detectives is clichéd and overwrought; however, it seemed especially apt in regards to this innocent looking photo. Upon initial examination, it simply appears to be a scribbled-upon photo taken in 1949 from a window of the Fisher Building of a now demolished structure near the intersection of West Grand Boulevard and Cass Avenue. While we’ve been producing high resolution scans of photos, there are rare instances where those scans, just by their nature don’t catch all the details. This photo is one of those exceptions.
This Photograph is from the Walker and Company billboard makers of Detroit. The brick wall was the future site of a Chevrolet billboard. During the design process an artist sketched the proposed billboard on tracing paper with this photograph beneath, leaving indentations from the design. When held at a specific angle to the light, the human eye can see the detailed design intended by the artist. As seen by the full image, the indentations do not appear at all on the scan. We were able to achieve some results by using a high wattage incandescent bulb at a low angle and using a digital SLR camera. The window in which the indented image appears through the viewfinder of the camera is very small so only hand held photography was possible. Some final tweaking of the contrast revealed the Chevrolet emblem quite clearly. Also included on the image were a clock and a three-dimensional block letter “Chevrolet” near the top of the building. Perhaps one day an image of the final billboard will surface and we can see how close the original plan was to the finished product. We’d love to hear from any Photoshop experts who have suggestions on how to make the image appear even more prominently.