Fading Family Photos


Nostalgia consumes me. I collect old cameras and old friends. I remember how to open the lenses on Kodak#1a Brownies and Minox folders. I have a number of old film boxes, Kodachrome II, Extar 25, Panatomic X and Fuji Reala. But all this pales to what happened recently. A friend came across an old straight tray Argus slide projector at a yard sale. This was the style where you put a little metal edge sleeve around the slide. A magnet connected to a small arm in the projector would move the slides in and out, sliding them in front of the projector lamp for display.

But this isn’t the nostalgic part. Along with the projector were included 4 large cases of slides. Each case held 10 of the trays and each tray holds 36 slides. I went through over 1400 slides. This batch was from 1959 to Christmas 1963. A majority of the slides were of Gregory, and a little later on Gregory and his little sister. I know this because each slide was carefully labeled in amazing handwriting with a date and a quick caption. Greg and his family visited the Ouray area often. They went on trips to Carlsbad Caverns, and Disneyland and Texas. Their parents owned Oldsmobiles and Chevys and a nifty 1962 red Volkswagon Beetle. Greg and Valerie, the sister, had amazing Christmases! Brand new red bikes and model train sets and dolls. Really ugly snowsuits and lots of family at the house. And I know all this because I got to view Gregs first 5 years. Greg turned 5 in 1963. August to be exact. Though I don’t know what day. And I’m not sure of Valeries’ birthdate, though it seems to be in about 1961.

Most of these pictures were general snapshots all of our parents also took. Probably with the same style camera. A fixed lens Voitlander maybe. An Argus C3 or a Nikkormat. Simple, easy to use 35mm cameras. Kodachrome was the film of choice. Bright and quick to get developed. Just drop it by the corner drugstore anytime. Ask for Steve. The amazing part to me is the time involved in the organization of these slides. Each slide was numbered with an index number, the date taken and a short caption. All handwritten. Then each slide was inserted into the small metal sleeve and then inserted, in order, into the slide tray. Each tray had 36 small handwritten sentences above each slide with the description. And each case had a small notebook with complete description of each of the 10 trays. Handwritten. Times 36. Times 10. Times 4. That is love. My guess is the wife did all of this. The handwriting is too amazingly neat to be a gentlemans. Exemplary penmanship with perfect round bottomed g’s. Helvetica G’s. G’s from the cereal boxes. G’s perfected by years of elementary school practice in a Big Chief notebook with the blue lines. I could be mistaken, but I’m saying feminine. And my guess is that these weren’t all of the slides. I’m sure they took lots more pictures of Greg and Val. So at this point all I can do is extrapolate a life from these few family shots. I hope the family was together for many more years of vacations and Christmases. That Greg and Val grew up in a great home and went on to have families of their own. That everyone is living a long, vibrant life full of pictures.

So why were all these memories for sale anyway? While none of the pictures were of a high art value in and of themselves, the whole collection represents about 4 years in a families life. Irreplaceable memories sitting on folding tables, on the driveway, in the sun. Now gone to them. Now I want you to think about all of your photographs. If you are like me you also have thousands of pictures stored. Some of mine are my parents Kodachromes I’ve kept. Some are 35mm slides I took from the late 70’s until the late 90’s. Including a large assortment of medium format transparencies. And now, recently, a huge amount of digital images in Raw, Tiff and Jpeg formats. These are existing on an assortment of hard drives and DVDs waiting. Waiting for something. Waiting for me to go back and view them, make prints, make something. Even if all I’m doing is checking to see if they still exist before the eventual hard drive crash. Or DVD failure. Waiting for me to move them to whatever new technology is next after DVD’s are old technology. Waiting for me to die so my kids can decide what to do with them. Vault? Basement? Dumpster? Yard Sale? All of our pictures mean something to us. Some are really nice and when printed or projected, may elicit oohs and aahs from the audience. But most of our pictures are snapshots. With built-in memories of time and place. We were with Mom and Dad when we took that trip. I was with Jenny during that rainstorm. We went to Ouray on the 4th of July. My kids were opening presents on Christmas morning. This was my Mom. That was my Dad. This is my sister holding the kitten. Memories on top of memories living on celluloid. Living as 1’s and 0’s in a computer. Memories of a life in pictures. And memories of Greg and Val trying out brand new red bikes. On Christmas morning. In the newly fallen snow.

Originally posted in The Online Photographer by Scott Parsons