Sunday, February 28, 2016

Lost memories

I have been taking pictures since I got my first Kodak Brownie as a youngster. If memory serves, that so-simple-even-a-child-can-use-it camera took 127 format film with 12 photos on a roll. Developing and printing cost a small fortune and took a couple of weeks for the local drug store to ship the film off to a lab somewhere in Toronto or Montreal for processing.

I still recall having exposed rolls of film on my dresser just waiting until I had saved enough of my allowance to have them developed, and then the excitement of tearing open the envelope, while still in the drugstore, for a quick first view of the printed pictures, weeks after the photo was originally taken. Black and white was the only option; colour film may have been available in that format back then but the cost was beyond my very modest budget.

Black and WhiteOne of my favourite Calvin and Hobbes cartoons.

Over the intervening years my interest has waxed and waned as it relates to ‘serious’ (as opposed to snap-shot) photography, often peaking just after I acquired a new ‘serious’ camera or lens, and then tapering off as other interests intruded on my time. Cameras and formats changed. Kodak Instamatics were followed by Olympus and then Nikon SLR’s. Black and white was replaced first by colour prints, then 35mm Kodachrome slides, and then back to prints. Commercial processing was replaced by a basement darkroom for several years. And then eventually film was replaced by digital media.

As a consequence I have stacks of photo albums bursting at the seams, many thousands of digital images on my computer, envelopes full of negatives, and tray upon tray of Kodachrome slides.

Of all the formats the least convenient were the slides. While I liked the sharpness of the direct image and the brightness of the colours they were a pain to view.  It was always such a production to drag out the projector and set up the screen that the pictures would languish for months and years without ever being seen.

Last year I finally decided to do something with those slides and embarked on what became a lengthy project to convert them to digital. Sadly, 40+ years of storage had not been gentle on them. Dust, fading, and colour-shifting meant that many of the images required significant post-processing to make them even marginally acceptable. Many  were beyond saving.

But I am now done. The projector has been recycled to someone going through the same exercise, I have a few more cubic feet of cleared space in my storage closet, and many lost memories have resurfaced. For I came to realise that was the ultimate value of the exercise, to travel back in time and relive past experiences, childhood pets, first cars, ski and motorcycle trips, and good times with friends and relatives – some of whom are, sadly, no longer with us.

So get out those albums, browse your photo files, even drag out the projector if necessary, but enjoy the images you took way back then; they are of no value stuck away in the dark – digital or otherwise.

9 comments:

  1. That's a great Calvin and Hobbs panel. One of my favorites. I also have mountains of slides and they aren't even in carousels but in books of archival plastic pages. I rarely made prints as developing color slides were so much cheaper than prints. I used the Cibachrome process for actually making the few prints I really liked. In the early 80s, I sold my SLR and lenses and picked up a very compact Olympus point-and-shoot and used that for many outdoor trips (ski touring, bicycle touring, hiking, sailing, etc.) until it just stopped working reliably in the early 90s due to dust,salt and moisture.

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    1. Richard - Thanks for that. I'd forgotten about the Cibachrome process! I did quite a few prints that way myself back in the day.

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  2. Dave, you may recall, a few years ago, you and I had a chat discussion regarding the merits of digital photos as opposed to actual photos in an album. One of the advantages to digital photos is that most of them are automatically date stamped and another is to be able to sort them in whatever means you determine. I remember you being somewhat reluctant to embrace digital photography back then, the main reason, if I recall correctly, was that with hard copy photos in an album, there were times when one or two people could sit together and reminisce while leafing through an album. With digital photos that doesn't happen. But the biggest advantage for me is that digital photos are so easily captioned which makes the memories more accurate. How many times have we looked at a photo and nobody even knows who it is. Sounds like a great project.

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    1. Gary - you're right. But what I've taken to doing is to select the best digital photos and publish them in photo books with accompanying narratives. Solves the problem of leaving something besides a hard drive to future generations and serves as a winnowing out of a lot of the generally poor pictures one takes when shooting digital and not having to worry about the cost of developing.

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  3. Yup, I have slides that need digitizing, plus Super 8 movies, plus videotape in both beta and VHS, in full sized cassettes, and mini cassettes. I really must tackle that. Thanks for reminding me.

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    1. David - You're welcome. Something to do after you've finished packing, moving, unpacking.....

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  4. Before Troubadour's mother passed away 3 years ago we brought home a few boxes of slides. Now to just figure out how to get them to digital. We brought the projector home as well so we could view them. Thank you as well for the reminder.

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    1. Trobairitz - What I did that worked quite well was I taped a piece of white Bristol board to the wall, set up the projector, and my camera right behind it on a tripod. Then as I projected each slide I simply took a photo of it. Worked quite well and was pretty quick. Good luck.

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    2. Since you are near the university, I suspect that there may be slide scanning equipment that you could use. Especially since Troubadour is staff (sort of). We used to put 2400dpi slide scanners in the student labs and now the resolution is around 4000 dpi.

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