It’s A Clean Machine

A thousand slides can make you feel like you're a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

Dad’s images of a Cape Canaveral launch from 1975, including a surprising number of boats, which were in space, but not the same way.

Starting sometime in 1963, Dad started photographing everything: his wife, his children, the neighbors, street lights, college classmates, train tracks, rockets, places he went, birds, plants, boats, statues, co-workers, bonfires, bodies of water. When he died, a mountain of his work moved to my apartment. Since July, I’ve scanned and uploaded about 2,000 images to a private Flickr museum of these images. It’s an ambitious project, facing a number of obstacles.

First: some slides were originally developed with dates and numbers, some with just dates or numbers, some with no dates or numbers. Second: Dad kept over 800 mixed slides in carousels, rather than dark plastic containers, and in these less than ideal conditions, some slides have faded or developed mildew damage. Third: at some point, my stepmom Summer labeled a bunch of plastic slide containers, which may save my sanity; unfortunately, about a decade’s worth of slides were stored together, which may send me round the twist. Fourth: a few years ago, the digitizing company I paid to scan slides essentially poured separate groups of slides into a machine and I have yet to undertake separating them because I panic every time I think about it.

Despite all this, I’ve made progress. I’ve started to recognize pictures that must have been taken at the same time, significant places and faces I haven’t seen since childhood. My father was 21 and my mother 22 when I was born, and these images start before I was a year old. It is strange now to see my parents as young twenty-somethings, to witness my father’s learning to see the world and his life through the camera’s lens. In these pictures, I see that we, his children, were photographed constantly and were completely accustomed to it. I don’t remember being photographed constantly, so in some ways, it’s like looking at someone else’s life with my face.

There’s another obstacle: not all of the slides are here. Enough dated and numbered slides are present to render obvious the gaps. Where are these missing slides? I don’t know. Summer doesn’t remember Dad mentioning them. I don’t know what that means, or what it would ultimately mean if thousands of images were just missing.

At this stage in a blog post, I usually make a joke about how some ginormous thing in my life is totally small, except in this case, that’s too literal. This ginormous thing in my life is meaningless to all but a handful of people on the planet, and even they don’t really seem to care much. So I am doing this because I can and I should, to the best of my ability. When I’m done, I’ll store the slides as permanently as I can, but I doubt anyone will ever look at them again. Dad would have been as surprised as anyone else that there could be a private museum of his photographs, and for that reason alone, I will keep building it.

 

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