Creative Retouching Turns Classic Glass Plate Portraits Into Modern Day Fine Art


If you follow PetaPixel, you’re already familiar with the haunting portrait archive of Costica Acsinte. For decades after the end of World War I, Acsinte was possibly the only professional photographer in all of Romania, and the over 5,000 glass plate negatives he left behind are now being painstakingly digitized so that they don’t succumb to the ravages of time.

And as these photographic treasures are digitized, one photographer is plying her retouching skill to turn the black-and-white, somber images into fantasy fine art portraits.

That photographer’s name is Jane Long, and her creative series Dancing with Costica began as a way to brush up on her retouching skills, but it has turned into something more out of the desire to tell a story:

“After finding the Costic─â Acsinte Archive on Flickr I became fascinated with the images and their subjects,” she tells us. “I wanted to bring them to life. But more than that I wanted to give them a story.”

See if you can guess the story in the photographs below:







“I will probably never know the real stories of these people,” says Long, “but in my mind they became characters in tales of my own invention… star-crossed lovers, a girl waiting for her lover to come home, boys sharing a fantasy, innocent children with a little hint of something dark.”

“Restoring the images,” she continues, “is only part of the process, the rest is the dance.”

To see more of Long’s work, or if you’d like to follow along as she continues to ‘dance’ with Acsinte’s portraits, be sure to visit her website or give her a follow on Flickr and Facebook.

Image credits: Original photographs by Costica Acsinte via Flickr Commons, recreations by Jane Long and used with permission.

  • Trevor Dennis

    I’m not sure what to think of this. If Costica Ascene had had the opportunity back then, would he have uploaded his images to flickr with a ‘Creative Commons No derivatives’ license? Does anyone have control of the original images, and they cool with these composites? I wonder. All that aside, it has been quite nicely done, but I’d have been a heaps more impressed if Ms Long had re-photographed similar models in similar environments. That’s just my take on it.

  • Eden Wong

    Very nice homage to a unique photographer with a unique body of work. Acsinte certainly deserves the attention this might bring to his original photos. I would hope that he would get a kick out of these and be pleasantly astounded at the reuse of his original images.

  • ramanauskas

    God’s pus, what is this? I can’t even.

  • Jim Johnson

    All works eventually go into the public domain. Over the last few decades, copyrights have been (wrongly, imho) extended well into multiple generations past the lifetime of the original creator.

    Philosophically, copyrights were meant to limit the amount of time a creator could claim exclusivity as much as they were meant to guaranty ownership rights.

  • Omar Salgado

    Appropriation. When you appropriate someone else’s work, you create signs, not sense. Art made out of signs is not art.

  • Kristofor Dahl

    This is terrible

  • Jane Long

    Trevor I checked with the curator of the archive for permission (being in Creative Commons does not necessarily imply that they allow editing) and he loves the images. I obviously can’t speak for Mr Acsinte, but my aim was to respectfully bring them to life but also add my own take on the images.

  • Jane Long

    Thanks Eden, I hope so too!

  • Melina Tempel├│poulos Yuros

    I feel strange about it. It’s a little bit creepy but also fascinating.

  • MEEfO

    Some of these are just so.. bad. The hair on that last one. Embarrassing.

  • Fra Lippi

    If you look at Ms Long’s portfolio, you’ll see she has other images that she’s created from her own photographs.

  • snapshot1

    The issue I have with this is the premise, “I wanted to bring them to life. But more than that I wanted to give them a story.” I’m sorry, they already are alive and already have a story, they don’t need your fingers on them to say so otherwise.

    This is the reason living in this modern creative world that finds direct copy appropriation infiltrating all mediums and sanctioned by both artists, the viewer and “curators” forms a creative world that no longer has anything to contribute except narcissism of the artist.

  • Steven Chaney

    Jesus, people. Lighten up. She said she asked permission of the curator. Therefore, she can do what she’s doing. This seems like a passion project. It doesn’t seem like the she’s trying to hoodwink anyone into thinking they are her own, and she is not trying to call all the attention to herself. These photos are intriguing and have a good chance of leading people who are unfamiliar with Ascene’s photos, back to the original source. It’s not narcissism, it’s a passion project. I’m so tired of all the negativity on the majority of photo sites. You don’t like the artist’s work, that’s fine, but we don’t really need you to scream it from the rooftops and call the artist whatever derogatory name you feel fits the situation.

  • cat

    Totally agreed.

  • Jane Long

    Thanks. I’m the first to admit my work is not to everyone’s taste and that everyone’s definition of “art” is subjective. :)

  • kuala

    total loser.

  • Theresa M. Staples Braley

    I think her work is amazing…as a photographer it tells a story, not only that their lives carry on and they are not forgotten!! Love your work Jane

  • Omar Salgado

    It is not a question of being her own work, it is a matter of creating signs. Appropriation in art is not about plagiarising someone else’s work, it is about using the symbols and signs in an original work to redirect meaning, but in the redirection, the sense of the original work is lost forever. Yes, you’re totally right, “leading people who are unfamiliar with Ascene’s photos, back to the original source” is what creates the sign, emptying the symbol, destroying the sense of the original work.

    No one said we don’t like this work; it’s just about going to the core purpose of art, which is giving sense and reconfiguring what we know about the world. And this is not art. Perhaps is just aestheticism.

  • Omar Salgado

    C’mon, Jane, if everyone’s definition were subjective, everything could be art. But that’s maybe what is happening nowadays in contemporary art, if art at all.

  • Spacey

    I can only imagine what your thoughts are on Monet, Degas, Gauguin and Van Gogh’s appropriation of the Japanese art style ukiyo-e, a genre so vastly and distinctly separate from their own as to render their usage completely void of its original meaning, let alone Warhol’s Campbell Soup cans, Lichtenstein’s comic strip panels, Dali’s Lobster Telephone, and Duchamp’s urinal. All of the above are examples which show the act of appropriation itself can and does constitute art.

  • Omar Salgado

    We need to distinguish symbols from signs; even more, we need to distinguish the unity of matter, form and content from its segmentation and projection as concepts, “pure form”. What you say that constitutes art is likely to be correct in the contemporary paradigm, in which art is has no sense and represents this signic society, the empty capitalism. Still, it seems you don’t understand appropriation as a signic process.

  • Michael Domingo

    You’re right, Steven. It doesn’t sound at all that she’s trying to misrepresent the work, but put those older images into the context of what is possible when old meets new technology. Fascinating stuff. I tend to view the images together, and the derivatives probably wouldn’t work for me without the context of the originals. Some people, of course, outright thinks her work sucks, and I’m okay with that as well. To each his own….

  • Spacey

    The concept of art itself has changed over the course of centuries to include the art of the “remix”, so it stands to reason that obsoleting the harsh boundaries of art — pure and impure forms, symbols and signs, moralistic and hedonistic, homogeneous or mashed up beyond belief — is part of the overall process of how we define art, whether we like it or not. These art pieces are stunning remixes.

  • Omar Salgado

    Well, the “remixes” are just the surface. What has changed over time is the paradigm, but there is an underlying structure that involves matter, form, content, technique, sense and the subject.

    I’m sorry to say that although those pieces are stunning and very well executed, they are not art, unless we adscribe to the new paradigm, that of the sign. But signs do not make art.