Tuesday, June 17, 2014

memory keeper

You don't take a photograph, you make it.
Ansel Adams

A year ago I bought a camera; my first DSLR. It also happened to be my first single lens reflex camera of any kind. I carefully inspected my dad's Canon SLR from 1978 (the A-1, Canon's a runaway best seller) before finally deciding which camera I should purchase for myself. Even though I can't convert his SLR over to digital, I can convert his lenses. But that's something I may do some day far into the future.

For now, I live in two worlds: the world of digital photography and the world of print photography. I have two different cameras to serve me in these parallel domains. I have two different media. Actually, I have three. I grew up with my father making slides. He even had a mount for his SLR. He'd set the camera up over the open reference book and shoot textbook photos for slides. This is how he gave presentations up until about two years ago. Then he switched to PowerPoint. I never thought I'd say this, but I miss the sound of the slide carriage advancing.

I was home vising my family two months ago when my Aunts came over to go through my grandmother's old boxes. My grandmother passed away 20 years ago, and my dad had stored all her possessions in our crawl space. All her remaining possessions fit into two storage boxes. It took us hours just to go through one box.

My grandmother is the student in the middle of the first row.

What did we find? Important documents, memorabilia, sentimental letters, and many photos. But mostly we found slides. 

We also found a lot of photos in terrible condition. But I couldn't just throw them away. I'll fix them up, I thought, as I put them in my keep pile. I planned to bring them back to San Francisco with me, scan them, and make them beautiful again. 


This is how far I've gotten fixing our old family photos. I don't know how to use Photoshop. I don't have a fancy computer. Honestly, I don't know what I'm doing. But I know I have to keep trying. Because what if it works? What if it turns out technology can not just preserve, but also save, old memories? These memories are so old, the people who actually lived them have long since passed. My grandfather passed away over 33 years ago, his parents long before him. I now have in my possession photos of his parents' parents, going back hundreds of years. 

My great-great-grandmother. Don't get on her bad side.

So what am I fixing the photos for, when all I have are faded photos and hundreds of negatives? How do I even know what I've got? Scanning negatives as a novice is not easy. I'm getting the hang of it, but there are a lot of photos go to through.

In the midst of discovering what is on these negatives, I know that I've got someone's memories. I'll keep going through the negatives until I've scanned them all and seen what's still there. Because somehow these are my memories now too, even if they occurred long before I was born. Unlike digital photos, there is information scrolled on the backside of the photos; names and dates and even phone numbers. I know who, when, and where I'm looking at. What better time is there to make these memories my own as well?

My great-grandmother        The backside of the photo

I'm going to have to score +1 for the real deal photos. And thank my grandmother for keeping them tucked safely away among her most cherished possessions. I can't say I treat any of my digital photos with the same care. I still cherish actual old family photos. So, dust off your photos and look at them. And just because they aren't in good condition, or were overexposed, don't throw them away. Because you have memories that are often worth holding on to. And ones worth discovering; those that you didn't even know existed until now.

More family photos found in the box, restored by yours truly

My Dad's family

Aunt Ferne's graduation

Aunt Robin

Dad's family on vacation

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7/02/2014

    What a wonderful project!