Photo Restoration with Lower East Sider Sebastian Wintermute

Posted on: March 23rd, 2011 at 6:09 am by

Monday night was the premiere of Triangle: Remembering the Fire.  We highly recommend viewing it.  The HBO documentary paints the tragic historical account in broad strokes, yet bolsters the narrative with stories told by victims’ descendants.  The featurette, which clocks in at a skim forty-five minutes, also includes a bevvy of photographs and even some video.

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A few of the images utilized were actually restored by Lower East Side resident and photo restoration extraordinaire, Sebastian Wintermute.  He was kind enough to answer some questions regarding his work and living in the neighborhood:

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[Josephine Carlisi perished in the fire]

Bowery Boogie: How long have you been restoring old photos?

Sebastian Wintermute: I have been restoring photographs for over a decade. It started with restoration of a few family photographs for my friends and myself but fast developed into a full time business with clients from all walks of life and projects ranging from restoration of a Polaroid baby pictures to replication of documents signed by the Founding Fathers of our nation.

BB: You are pretty much re-living neighborhood history through a unique lens.  What’s your reaction when you recognize a certain time and place that has changed so dramatically, especially with regard to the ever-evoloving Lower East Side?

SW: The empowered grandchildren of struggling immigrants have really raised the rent. Though the architecture may have changed, the tenements, tailor shops and bodegas replaced by trendy bars, galleries and boutiques, the wonderfully rebellious political, creative and entrepreneurial spirits are as strong as they ever were. LES is really a microcosm of New York social, economic and cultural evolution. From Emma Lazarus to Lady Gaga.

BB: What is it about old photos that attracts you?

SW: It’s the stories behind the pictures that I find the most fascinating, particularly when I work on archives of family pictures or collections that span generations. Being able to bring those pictures back as the illustrations of those stories is exceptionally gratifying. Quite often it also allows me to test my skills not only as a restorer but as a detective. Sherlock Holms stories were always among my most favorites.

BB: What’s your favorite time period or location to work with?

SW: The photographs that I find to be most affected by usually come from WWII and the year prior to it. In my opinion, we can learn a lot from people who lived through those trying times, particularly about the appreciation for what we have and true value of things and relationships.

BB: What’s your take on mobile apps like Instagram or Hipstamatic which process photos through filters in order to transform the original images?  Is everything too clean now with advances in digital technology?

SW: I have very mixed feelings about such applications. On one hand they do provide opportunity to greatly improve an appearance and appeal of almost any snapshot. On the other hand they strip pictures of originality, depriving a person of pride in effort and vision (and a bit of luck), which used to be the requirements for taking any good picture.

BB: What photo restoration project would you consider your proudest achievement?

SW: Though I put equal effort and take pride in all the projects that I work on no matter how big or small they can be or who they come from. I was most pleased to have been chosen to restore some of the previously unknown victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire for the documentary movie commemorating the 100th anniversary of that tragic event. I was also very happy to work on restoration of images for Natalie Merchant album [Leave Your Sleep] since I have been an admirer of her talent for a very long time.

[Both photos courtesy of Sebastian Wintermute]

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