George Lawrence home page

"San Francisco in Ruins"
by Peter Nurkse

Most everybody who's seen that picture has seen it (printed or downloaded) from one of the different resolution files from the Library of Congress panoramic collection:
 - Search for "2000 feet"
Several different resolution files available there, from 37KB JPEG to 4MB TIFF.
However recently, perhaps in the last couple of years, the Library added a full scan of their original print, as a 160MB TIFF file. That's a 40x increase in resolution. When printed out at 150 dpi, which is the max. resolution of most ink jet printers, that 160MB file yields a picture 6 ft. wide (since ink jet printers can't match the accuracy of the original 4 ft. wide contact print). But being the L. of C., they didn't take on a task to promote or advertise the new addition, not their job really.
At that resolution you can read the names on the ferryboats, and count the windows in the Palace Hotel, and see the top story of the Monadnock building (that survived 2 attempts by the Army to blow it up as a firebreak, and is still standing on Market St. today). Plus identify the ruins of Chinatown, where the Chinese landowners protested a city plan to move them to Hunter's Point, at the far south limits of the city, by refusing permission to clean the ruins on their property. An entirely new picture from the previous L. of C. versions available.
There is another step I'd suggest, besides the simple 160MB download, to see the picture as Lawrence saw it. You can bet he saw a vivid black and white picture that sparkled, with strong contrast (any photo taken directly into the setting sun would have strong contrast). However what we see today is typically dull and washed out and often brown with age, typical of an old photo.
Seems that historical librarians prefer dull and washed out and brown, that shows they have an original artifact. But anybody who's not a historical librarian would probably like to see the picture about as Lawrence saw it, vivid, alive, sparkling. There are two simple steps to restore a close version of the original picture from the TIFF file, after cropping that file to remove the scanner background:
Of course, professional photo restorers probably have more tricks, and can get somewhat better or more accurate results. But to me seems to promote Lawrence and his work it's good to publish a procedure that anyone can do, do it yourself if you want. (Webmaster's Note: I have downloaded the TIFF for you and converted it to a 20 megabyte JPEG, 11709 x 44716 pixels.)
What might be the biggest problem with showing people Lawrence's work is the size of the picture. You need at least an original 4 ft. wide contact print, and if at 150 dpi (typical inkjet or magazine print resolution) you need 6 ft. wide.

I've made several 6 ft. wide copies of the picture, same resolution all over as in the ferry boat detail.  It is made of 28 sections, cut and taped together to match. But I think I do a good job (have made 3 copies so far), since even advanced photographers have assumed it was one sheet of paper, when they looked at it.
Worth the work to make a copy just to watch the looks on people's faces when they see it. I have to be careful when I show it, because just by itself it can disrupt an entire meeting agenda. Very few people have seen a Lawrence panorama at full resolution, and even less restored to the 1906 appearance.

Showing the 6 ft. picture on an easel at the start of a historical walking tour in San Francisco, I quickly got an audience of over 50 people closely packed together on the sidewalk. One man said he saw the crowd from his room in a hotel across the street, and he came down just to see what was happening. That's the power of a full resolution copy of a Lawrence panorama.

Peter Nurkse
April 2006