Preserving The Past With Photography - It's Important

Preserving The Past With Photography - It's Important - Sometimes I find I get to thinking of the past and realise just how crucial photography is for making memories, says John Duder.

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General Photography


1.1	Road traffic accident, Mill Street, Leek, circa 1968.

Road traffic accident, Mill Street, Leek, circa 1968.

 

It started when I bought a new scanner, and happened to find some of my oldest negatives, neatly filed away… One or two looked interesting, and so I scanned them.

LP Hartley wrote that 'the past is another country' and there is the same novelty to old pictures as to those from exotic places. I’ve recently been scanning negatives from when I was at school in the late Sixties and early Seventies and it is, indeed, another country and they DO do things differently there.

 

A reminder of the Swinging Sixties, and pre-decimal currency. And unintentional tribute to Vivian Maier… Super Paxette 2BL, Tessar 50mm f/2.8 – I still have the camera…

A reminder of the Swinging Sixties, and pre-decimal currency. As well as an unintentional tribute to Vivian Maier. Super Paxette 2BL, Tessar 50mm f/2.8 – I still have the camera!

 

Technical stuff

My scanner takes two strips of 35mm negatives – so it’s easy to set it going and let it whirr away in the background while I do other things. Speed isn’t an issue.

 

Looking along Park Road, Leek, with Hamill Street on the left. You can recognise this on Google Maps, though there have been noticeable changes.

Looking along Park Road, Leek, with Hamill Street on the left. You can recognise this on Google Maps, though there have been noticeable changes.

 

I scan at 4800 dpi, giving me files around the same size as I get from my camera. I have set up the software to make very low contrast scans, which means that I have to work on every one of them that I want to use but get very little problems with burned-out highlights or blocked shadows.

 

Vauxhall Viva, circa 1976, Heaton, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Who knew that they’d used the name before? Vauxhall clearly forgot – few people have wonderful memories of this vehicle…

Vauxhall Viva, circa 1976, Heaton, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Who knew that they'd used the name before? Vauxhall clearly forgot – few people have wonderful memories of this vehicle...

 

I then use Levels in Elements or Photoshop to expand the contrast range - 20 seconds a picture always does the trick. I don’t sharpen and I don’t usually do anything about dust marks: I have always stored negatives in glassine sleeves and seem to have processed them carefully, even in my mid-teens, very few show any signs of deterioration, even after nearly 50 years. I wonder how my external hard drives will be doing in 2065?

 

Content

With older pictures, even the absolutely every day becomes interesting, as others have found. One ePHOTOzine member has posted scans of colour slides taken in Afghanistan in the early Seventies: a fascinating insight into a country that has been troubled most of the time since.

 

Bob McDuell supervising an ‘A’ Level chemistry practical session. He was an inspiring teacher, and went on to write a number of textbooks.

Bob McDuell supervising an 'A-Level' chemistry practical session. He was an inspiring teacher and went on to write a number of textbooks.

 

I have shots from school – the chemistry lab is a revelation to modern teachers and pupils. Street shots show the same cars that charm viewers of 'Life on Mars', 'Minder' and other time slipped TV programmes. A child on a swing reminds us of the way that we restrict each other's freedom in the name of safeguarding and I’ve found more of a tendency for the younger me to take pictures of minor news – a road accident, a house on fire, police clearing up a damaged window in a disused shop.

 

Leek High School building project at Hopping Head Farm. Like the chemistry lab shop, this shows how health and safety has changed over the last four or five decades…

Leek High School building project at Hopping Head Farm. Like the chemistry lab shop, this shows how health and safety has changed over the last four or five decades...

 

And, of course, there are friends, even shots of the girlfriend who never was…

 

A walk with friends...

A walk with friends...

 

Most people feel that there’s nothing inspiring about the area they live in - we all grow used to our own surroundings and see them as mundane while somebody else’s every day seems exotic and different.

 

Church Street, Leek, in 1969. The buildings in the middle were demolished in 1972 to allow lorries to pass, instead of having a bottleneck in the middle of Leek.

Church Street, Leek, in 1969. The buildings in the middle were demolished in 1972 to allow lorries to pass, instead of having a bottleneck in the middle of Leek.

 

On ePHOTOzine, I follow some photographers because they post shots of the every day in their country and it is such a refreshing change from a rather grey, British post-industrial town in the West Midlands. Their subjects wear colourful clothes and travel on exotic forms of transport. But... when my little nephews from Yorkshire visit us, going on the top deck of a WM Travel bus is exciting because there are no double-deckers in their village. A New Yorker will see a British black cab as strange and interesting – just as I view the yellow NYC taxis as a novelty.

As mentioned, one ePHOTOzine member has also scanned and posted slides from Afghanistan in the Seventies – a different, more peaceful country.

 

What to do with them?

Purely a personal picture – but this is my son, now a mechanical design engineer… That may be a Cosmic Symbol 35 round his neck…

Purely a personal picture - but this is my son, now a mechanical design engineer... That may be a Cosmic Symbol 35 round his neck.

 

Of course, exploring your archives will turn up some delightful family treasures – but what I discovered was that there’s a lot that can have wider interest. Depending on where you live, you may find that there’s an active local history centre, a historical society, or even a privately-started project to bring together material from the past.

 

I wish I could tell you who this is: but the fact of the matter is that it was a younger child when I was passing the playground. I think it was on the Westwood Road recreation ground in 1968, but I can’t be sure…

I wish I could tell you who this is but the fact of the matter is that it was a younger child when I was passing the playground. I think it was on the Westwood Road recreation ground in 1968, but I can’t be sure...

 

I grew up in Leek, in North Staffordshire, and have recently sent a number of scanned pictures to a closed Facebook group that examines and documents the history of the town (The History & Heritage of Leek and the Staffordshire Moorlands).

 

This sort of picture is a giveaway – the licence disc in the car window dates the picture as being taken in 1969…

This sort of picture is a giveaway – the licence disc in the car window dates the picture as being taken in 1969…

 

They have posted a number of shots, and each one has accumulated comments from people who knew names and reasons, building up a record of what was once just the boring place I lived.

 

Possible projects

Some years ago, on a winter visit to Barmouth, I went to what I expected to be a tiny gathering of enthusiasts discussing local landscapes, but which turned out to be a large meeting of local people compiling a town archive. This sort of thing is time-critical: there is a period of time that is still within living memory at present but will cease to be so in relatively few years’ time. 

 

Battersea Power Station, mid-Eighties. It’s easy to forget how, exactly, a structure looked when it has been rebuilt for a different purpose…

Battersea Power Station, mid-Eighties. It’s easy to forget how, exactly, a structure looked when it has been rebuilt for a different purpose...

 

My parents’ generation remembered the war and a few of them even managed to find resources to make pictures of it. However, every picture brings questions about the context and the meaning and the answers need to be overlaid on the image for the greatest historical value. Who was in it? What were they doing? What was that device, or vehicle, or building used for?

 

After my Dad died in 1969, we had to move out of the Vicarage that went with his job, and my Mum disposed of this large sofa to her hairdresser, Chris (pushing the sofa). Two friends came to help him move it half a mile to his flat, in true Sixties style.

After my Dad died in 1969, we had to move out of the Vicarage that went with his job and my Mum disposed of this large sofa to her hairdresser, Chris (pushing the sofa). Two friends came to help him move it half a mile to his flat, in true Sixties style.

 

More or less irrespective of history, it may be worth asking the landlord of a local pub if he’s interested in a couple of shots of the place as it was 40 years ago – or seeking permission to put some prints around the place with price tags on them. You never know your luck!

 

Adding the background notes

For the last twenty years or so, everything that happens has been archived digitally, as well as in other ways. It’s easy to find background, and individuals are, increasingly, recording their thoughts in the public domain on blogs and social media. But before that, there’s a real gap: even the BBC was guilty of recycling recording tape so that episodes of programmes now seen as classic television are lost.

 

Edgar Broughton Band at Leek High School, Spring 1970.

Edgar Broughton Band at Leek High School, Spring 1970. 

 

So it’s worth asking around, sooner rather than later. I realised that near the start of that meeting in Barmouth, as one of the first pieces of business was to record the names of group members who had died since the last meeting. And to some extent, their memories have died with them...

 

2 An unknown policeman taking executive action to prevent a broken window falling in passers-by. 1968, Church Street, Leek. The building is part of the row in the shot looking up Church Street earlier in the article.

An unknown policeman taking executive action to prevent a broken window falling in passers-by. 1968, Church Street, Leek. The building is part of the row in the shot looking up Church Street earlier in the article.

 

Roger Hicks recently wrote about the value of old pictures and lamented that he’d only photographed the exteriors of shops and that he hadn’t annotated them in a way that adds meaning and context. He advised – and I endorse the idea – that we should all go through our piles of prints and add notes to a few. Maybe, even, make an album of trivia – the images in this article may give you an idea of the sort of thing that will then, suddenly, become relevant to others.

Plus, it’ll save your next of kin a bit of the job of clearing out your house after you die.

 

Final thoughts

In the mid-Eighties, part of ‘Welcome to Walsall’ week, there were helicopter rides for a tenner. Thirty-odd years on, this road junction has changed surprisingly little

In the mid-Eighties, part of ‘Welcome to Walsall’ week, there were helicopter rides for a tenner. Thirty-odd years on, this road junction has changed surprisingly little -  see Google Earth

 

I deeply regret that I didn’t take more pictures of the absolutely every day such as simple record shots of the Market Place in Leek on a market day, full of wooden stalls. When I visited the town a couple of years ago on a market day, there were a few stalls clustered in one corner... When I was a lad, it was full.

Go on, try it with your own old negatives, your parents', or even your grandparents'. Also, do think on as your own pictures of every day as you live your life will, at some point in the future, be a part of history. It may also mean that your next trip into town will involve a camera, and recording what is, this week, every day but will be history one day.

Subtract around 45 years… This was after February 1970, because that camera in my hands is the Exa 500 that I bought with my first ever winnings from a photographic competition…

Subtract around 45 years... This was after February 1970, because that camera in my hands is the Exa 500 that I bought with my first-ever winnings from a photographic competition.

 

 

About Author: John Duder 

John Duder is quite shocked to have been taking pictures as a hobby for fifty years, as he still feels like a lad of 17 when faced with a camera or a good subject.

John still has and uses a darkroom, and specialises in black-and-white images, portraits, and nudes. He’s been a member of ePHOTOzine since 2003 and joined the Critique Team a few years ago.

Now retired from his day job, he is keen to share his cumulatively acquired knowledge and experience (CAKE) with others: and who can resist CAKE? He runs lighting workshops at a couple of local studios in the West Midlands and offers one-to-one coaching.

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Comments


dudler Plus
15 738 1411 England
7 Sep 2018 12:05PM
I had a lot of fun picking and captioning scans from my first few years of processing film.

For the record, most of the negatives are still in pretty good condition I tried never to skimp on fixing or washing times.

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djh698 14 5.6k 6 United Kingdom
7 Sep 2018 12:45PM
Tp think that a lot of people would have thrown out some of these photos because they were very ordinary and didn't have family members smiling at the camera. Now they are moments of history because the buildings and indeed people are no longer the same and in some cases have gone completely. Some good documentary shots here.
Techno Plus
10 3.1k 8 England
7 Sep 2018 1:28PM
Thanks John, a very worthwhile and interesting read, my coffee break was more memorable for it too.....
Regards
Mal

85831_1536322056.jpg



High days and Holidays was the only time my camera ventured out, cost, and the lack of disposable income being a major consideration in those days, but your write up prompted me to search the hdd and discovered this gem! from 1962 with two of my children, a third was on the way very soon, no idea of the location, but quite impressed with the compositional skills of the wife.
dudler Plus
15 738 1411 England
7 Sep 2018 2:22PM
And I'm impressed by the standard of dress for a day out...
7 Sep 2018 8:37PM
loved it! very happy(excited) that I read this topic and saw wonderfull pictures. sorr for my english, not everything I can express whats in my mind! Smile
dudler Plus
15 738 1411 England
7 Sep 2018 10:04PM
I'm so glad you enjoyed the article.

And we make pictures because they are a universal language...
josa 6 25 Czech Republic
8 Sep 2018 7:46PM
Nice pics!
alfpics Plus
16 367 2 England
9 Sep 2018 4:20PM
Some wonderful piccies there John. We had the Edgar Broughton band play at our school down in Wiltshire. That was the last such concert allowed at the school for sometime IIRC...
dudler Plus
15 738 1411 England
10 Sep 2018 9:06AM
I doo seem to recall that EB was working hard at generating a bit of controversy...
11 Sep 2018 8:20AM
Just bought a negative scanner myself and having immense fun scanning my old negs, plus discovering old images I had completely forgotten, Now if only I can remember where I stashed all my old Kodachrome slides.....
dudler Plus
15 738 1411 England
11 Sep 2018 5:27PM
Hint, for colour:

If the scanner control panel offers colour restoration, try it! It can add life to slightly dark images, as well as faded ones - Kodachrome lasts better than most things...
12 Sep 2018 2:21PM
Like you I have been scanning Black and White negatives from the past, Family and my National Service in Hong Kong
12 Sep 2018 2:22PM
I should add, these were from 1950's
ElSid 10 8 United Kingdom
12 Sep 2018 3:29PM
Thanks for that, 50 years of accumulated antiquity just came and whacked round the head...GrinGrinGrin

I'm amazed how familiar those '60s pics still seems even after all these years, our chemistry lab looked much the same and the old HC Viva was very much a part of life when I was young.
salopian Plus
7 3 28 United Kingdom
14 Sep 2018 8:07AM
Spent a wonderful hour or so scrutinising these fascinating pictures - I'm really glad you posted them, they took me back to my own beginnings in photography. I also had a Super Paxette, though my first camera was an Ensign Ful-Vue using 620 film. I have a treasured image, taken with an Agfa box in May 1940, ( crikey 78 yrs ago! ) of our family sitting on the beach at Bournemouth with some French soldiers recently evacuated from France and it was published in "Photos for the Future". I think it was the History Channel that had asked viewers to send in photos for folk to view how things were "back then"
A lovely wallow in warm nostalgia though I have heard some cynical folk saying "nostalgia ain't what it used to be!"

Geoff
dudler Plus
15 738 1411 England
14 Sep 2018 9:56AM
Tahnks, Geoff!

My Paxette - which was my Dad's) is a bit the worse for wear: the rangefinder isn't accurate, and the rewind lever clutch is dodgy. But it's still a lovely bit of kit...
mrswoolybill Plus
12 1.3k 1976 United Kingdom
23 Sep 2018 4:15PM
It's sobering to think that out of the millennia of human civilization, only the last half dozen generations that have been able to record personal memories and experiences in this way. Imagine if the Tudors had had photography available...

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