By Kelly Roper
30 Jul 2012
The house was simple but well maintained. Outside stood a line of strangers eager to look through a lifetime of memories and find chosen ones to carry home in small paper bags. As the doors opened at noon I rushed past the large antique furniture, the artwork, the trinkets and found a small tray filled with old photographs. I glanced around to see if I had competition as I took my time looking at each photograph. In the corner I noticed an album labeled simply 1920's. I imagine that at one point this album was proudly displayed on a fancy corner table for visitors to enjoy. Perhaps years later it made it's way into a closet and sat content during the years that The Brady Bunch would echo through the house taken out from time to time to tell stories of grandparents and distant relatives and friends. As time passed it might of found itself in a box in the attic forgotten. During the time the album has been around I realize my parents were born, I was born and finally my children were born. The subjects in the album lived the life they were given, names might of been forgotten by the family that inherited the album by now over 90 years old. One day the box was opened and the album was dusted off and sat in the corner ready to be sent away at an estate sale. I can never pretend to understand why anyone would give away a link to their family history and I would never chose to do so. None the less the album sat alone in my hands, a stranger who knew nothing about the people smiling inside the pages. I have collected vintage photographs before so I felt certain I would rescue this album until I came across a 4x5 Negative. Suddenly the challenge was to see if the negative could be printed after nearly 100 years. I held it up to the window and could see this was a child. I rushed with my treasure and paid a dollar. I went about my way with my paper bag. In my hands was something that was permanent, tangible and had stood the test of time.
I sent the negative to my printer whom printed it by hand. When the package arrived today I was ready to see the child that was finally going to emerge on paper. The print was perfection. The scratches, the age, the little girl found. I imagined what her name was.... Maybe Eleanor, Louise, Edith or Genevieve. I settled on Beatrice and studied her face, clothing, knee socks, laced shoes, the farmhouse that stood behind her..... All the detail in front of me printed from a negative nearly 100 years old. The print is exceptional. The scratches, the age imperfections that are so perfectly appreciated, the silvers and grain. I have built my business on black and white film and often explain that it feels more permanent than my digital work. My point is proven .... if dated correctly this negative has been around to witness the Depression, World War II, The Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War and beyond. The day man landed on the moon the negative was holding strong and it was likely tucked in that album the day President John F. Kennedy left our county to mourn his loss. Inside this simple album labeled "The 1920's" until the day this little girl was found again it did not fade away. This is what I mean by Film feels permanent to me when I compare it to my digital work. I have so many "files" floating around, lost hundreds in computer crashes, external hard-drive crashes. The files are easy to create, manipulate and save but are so easily lost. I find myself not printing my digital files. I will frame this small print of a little girl found and I will make an effort to print and label our family photos. I will teach my children the importance of family history even after names have been forgotten and faces are unfamiliar. Our link to our past is something that should never be found on a corner table at an estate sale for one dollar.