Saturday, January 28, 2023

A photographic discovery

Readers who have been following along between this blog, and my personal one, know I've been sorting through the packets of old photo prints and negatives we had in a box in the basement. You have such a box as well, don't lie to me!

In looking for something else I came across the box and was diverted for a while looking through the prints. But there were negatives as well, and since I've been capturing current negatives, I wondered what the old ones would be like, and how they would turn out.

So in light of what I discovered, I need to clarify old. I knew we had a wedding album from Linda's parents, and various photos of me that older relatives had sent. But I was thinking the oldest negatives would be mine from the late-80s till whenever we got the first digital camera. Which to some of you young whipersnappers, that seems really old. Humph. There's days my brain still thinks it's mid-80's and wonders what's happened.

But then I came across some negatives that were an odd size, and I could see a really old truck in one of them. After digitizing, and I'm glad I got the glass plates because they wouldn't have fit in the carriers, we were amazed to see photos from the very late 1940's or early 1950's through to the early 60's. We think. We're checking with some of Linda's aunts to see if they can shed any light on who some of these people are.

One set of negatives is 127 film, and the other is 120 Kodak Safety film, in two different sizes, 2.25 inch square, and 2.25" x 3 3/8 (8.5 x 5.5 cm) which is essentially a modern 3:2 ratio. I'm guessing that 3 different cameras were used, but no idea what they might be.  

We have no idea how the negatives came to be in our box of photos. Neither of us have any memory of them being given to us, and we've never seen prints of them. We're guessing it happened maybe mid to late 90's. I've put the photos in an online folder and sent a link to Linda's relatives, and the feedback so far is they love them! Which makes it worthwhile.

As a technical note for photographers, I didn't do anything special to these negatives. Fortunately they were stored flat in the box. They were all photographed in a batch and had essentially no processing in Negative Lab Pro. I'm a bit surprised they look as good as they do.

This is Linda's parents, but we aren't sure if the baby is Linda or her older brother. The negatives are in no order, so we can't rely on context. If her brother, this is from late 1953 if it's a christening photo. There are several others in this sequence, including Linda's grandparents. Most of the photos are essentially family snapshots, with a few posed portraits.

We believe this is Linda as a little girl, early 60's. In one of the sequence she is posing with a stuffed toy that she has no memory of, so it's possible it could be someone else. Again, nothing special was done to clean up the file. At this point I was more interested in seeing what we had, than in spending a ton of time cleaning up dust spots and negative flaws. If some of our family ask for a version they can print, or a really clean digital version then I'll take another image with a better camera, and clean that up. 

The truck I first noticed. If this were one of my photos I was editing, I'd probably crop out the bottom third of it, the rocks and brighter grass not adding much. But I'm thinking of this more as historical photo journalism.  I've no idea what year or model the truck is.

By today's standards, none of these photos are particularly sharp, but that's to be expected. That they exist at all is kind of amazing. I'd like to post more of them, but want to give family the time to look them over and identify who's who. We're pretty sure some of the people are still alive, and I don't want to go publishing an old photo of them without permission. One of the photos has Linda's dad posing near a fire truck with some of what we believe are his colleagues. I've reached out to a person running a memorial page for that fire department to see if they are interested in the photos. I'd be astonished if not. The descendants of those people might be interested in seeing the photo.

I've written a bit about photographs, and what happens to them when the photographer passes away, and the differences in that process for printed and digital photos. The digital version of photos are ephemeral. They can disappear in the blink of a hard drive crash, a forgotten password, or a software update. Prints (in a book or framed) will last for generations with a bit of care, and can be looked at by anyone with functional eyeballs. Negatives can exist for the same amount of time, but generally can't be looked at by an ordinary person and be 'seen'. They need to be converted to a positive, whether through a traditional darkroom process, a scanner, or a digital camera. Assuming I live another 30 years, and that box stays in a cool dry environment, and somehow gets passed to another photographer, they could pull out the negatives and get essentially the same photos, since my digital versions will probably have vanished. Then they start the whole "who are these people" process over again. Maybe I should put a note with the negatives...

These negatives are mostly on the order of 70 years old. An eyeblink in terms of other historical documents, middle aged for analog photographs, but are before the beginning of digital time. The first digital photo is from 1957 and was scanned from an analog photo. The first digital camera was in 1975. The iPhone 3 in 2008 really kicked off digital photography. (Thank about that a moment, the smart phone is only 14 years old, or so, and has completely revolutionized our society, to the point of replacing those reels of tickets so people could take a number for faster service.) At that point no serious photographer would be using a digital camera because even 35mm film was light years better.

There are a few images from back then available now, having been migrated from computer to computer, probably mainly for historical interest rather than artistic merit. We have no way of knowing for sure, but I would not be surprised to find there are more 'lost' images, than what exist now. Just think of how computers have evolved in a few decades, and it's inevitable that photos and documents will be left behind, essentially inaccessible. 

I'm delighted to have a peek back in time, seeing what people looked like when young, seeing what else is in the photo that wouldn't be noticed at the time, such as vehicles, decorations, homes (I can only imagine how hideous that wallpaper was in real life), and general background. In several of the photos one of the people is holding a cigarette, you'd never see that now. 

1 comment:

  1. The truck was my Dads. An red international that he went to work with and before he got to work at the airport, he would put ceder hedges in the blossom park and other subdivisions in the 1950,s.


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