Saturday, May 19, 2012
I’ve recently found myself in the middle of an undertaking that has far exceeded any expectations I may have had going in. I am retrieving my family from the cheap film and lousy emulsions of the past. Let it be said that my dad was a great dad, but also let it be known that his idea of taking a photograph was to point a cheap camera, loaded with generally cheap film, at his subjects—usually my mother, sister and myself, or some combination thereof, and click away. That was it. Oh, and he generally used slide film, which was supposed to give better colors and so on but was a pain in the neck to view. When he died thirteen years ago, into my possession came a case that contained almost two thousand slides. It took me several years and many, many yard sales to finally find a slide projector with which to view them, and about eight years ago, when my sister, Carmen, was diagnosed with cancer, and was given only about six months to live, I brought her, and her husband to a camp that our family had owned when we were kids, on a beautiful Adirondack Mountain lake. The current owner of the camp was kind enough to allow us to use it for a few days, to give Carmen some good energy and to remind us both of a time when our lives were happy ones, since shortly after our last time at the camp, when we were eleven and nine, our family fell apart, and the slides, as well as our good memories, all were shoved into a dusty closet somewhere. We looked at all two thousand slides that weekend. While viewable, they were the victims of bad technology, bad photography and of forty plus years of neglect. Many were impossible to make out, and some were just rubbish as far as we could see. But with the seriousness of my sister’s illness, and the short time we had at the camp, we made the best of a bad situation. Carmen died a few months later, but at least she had gotten a chance to relive her childhood again. Last year I finally got around to buying a slide scanner with which to digitize all of those slides. All it did was remind me how bad they looked, though. One of the first things that photography teachers used to tell their students was that old, bad photos should be discarded, because they will never get any better. It made sense to me, but I still held on to those old slides. And I am glad I did. This year I was fortunate to acquire the world’s most popular photo editing program, and it has been revelatory. I have taught myself how to crop, brighten, increase and decrease the intensity of colors, and even how to sharpen blurry images. With a click of a mouse I can make a black square live again, sometimes in color, sometimes in black and white, which actually gives many photos a new and more interesting look. I am now halfway through restoring all of those slides. I am amazed at what I am seeing---images of my parents that I never had seen, my little self in silly costumes, and literally hundreds of pictures of a little red headed girl who never got a chance to grow old. Those old teachers were wrong. Bad pictures can get better, with the right amount of TLC.