Slides: Lost & Found

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On a shelf above my desk sits an enormous binder full of 35mm slides, neatly stored in sleeves. These slides aren’t my work though. And it isn’t the work of anyone I know.

I came into possession of the binder some time last year. A co-worker of mine had decided to venture out on his own to follow a dream that involved photography, South America, and Eco-tourism. Arriving at work the day after his departure I noticed the binder, which I had always assumed to be his work, still sitting on his desk. Worried that his slides would be lost forever, tossed away and destroyed, I snatched up the binder for safe keeping.

I have a hard enough time throwing my own work out, even when it belongs in the trash, so I couldn’t watch what was obviously someone’s massive cache of images be tossed. I promptly emailed my former co-worker and told him I’d saved the binder and would deliver it to him safely. I was feeling proud of my good deed, yet wondering why on earth he would have forgotten something so important.

Later in the day another co-worker came up to me and said, “I see you’ve inherited the binder”. Curious as to the somewhat whimsical nature of said co-worker’s comment I raised an eyebrow and replied with something like, “Well, I’m holding onto to it for so and so….” With a giggle my comrade went on to explain that the binder wasn’t our departed co-worker’s slides at all – but that he had found it on the street, and “saved” it from certain doom. Needless to say I felt somewhat deflated in my mission.


Later when the departed co-worker emailed back he explained that he had tracked down the owner of the slide binder when he had found it (which wasn’t too hard since his name was stamped on the back of each slide – a fact I would have discovered had I actually opened the binder) who informed my former co-worker that he didn’t want the slides back – and to, THROW THE BINDER OUT!

The departed co-worker and I both mused over this instruction to throw all that work out. Even if this photographer didn’t want his slides back, there was just something in us that couldn’t toss the hundreds and hundreds of images. That being said, the departed co-worker knew that leaving the slides on his desk would probably equal doom for the work, but at least gone he wouldn't have to see it happen. 

I should take a moment for a disclaimer here. Since leaving college some years ago I made a promise to myself to no longer be a pack rat. Interesting boxes from things I'd buy, papers, books, and discarded photos I’d find on the street all made their way into my life during those years – and many other things as well. "Dumpster Diving" was considered a fun past time by me and several of my friends and roommates. In fact, we pretty much furnished our apartment that way. The thing was - we could never throw anything out, or return anything to the garbage that we weren't going to use, for other dumpster divers to seize upon. My issue with.... collecting shall we say?, didn't start in college though, which anyone who saw my childhood bedroom can attest to. As much as I value repurposing things there is a point where you need to be selective.

So, here I was: to keep the unwanted binder or dump it? Since no one wanted it, even its creator, I knew it didn’t matter if I threw it out. And in all truth it’d probably be healthier for me if I did, with my no-clutter pact and all. Yet, more than a year later it still sits on my shelf. I haven’t even looked at the slides much past the first couple of pages which consist of early ‘90s models, some interiors, and product shots… not the most exciting stuff.

So what’s my problem? Why I can’t I toss this guy’s slides? It’s not that I’ve fallen in love with these images and must have them in my life. The binder’s too big for a paper weight, and truthfully, it takes up a lot of room on my shelf. So, what’s my deal?  I guess I just can’t bear to destroy somebody else’s work. And, old habits die hard. But if anyone else out there finds themselves having a similar issue, or can shed some light on this quirk of mine, I'd like to hear some theories. 

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I wouldn't be able to throw it out either. Even if it's the most banal material, it's still a record of a moment in time. The fact they're transparencies even more so -- they'll always be able to looked at, even if a Kevin Costneresque post-apocalyptic postal service/waterworld with no electricity and Dennis Hopper running around quoting Shakespeare and talking about how he use to sell photocopiers.

Sorry, tangent there -- but a decade from now, someone can find those slides and look at them. They might not be high art, but they represent how a man made his living, paid for the roof over his head, etc etc etc...

Back to the movie references, it reminds me of Kane's 'Declaration of Principles.' Joseph Cotten decided to hold on to it, because he felt it would be important piece of paper. In the end, it was just a piece of paper, but if Orson Welles hadn't fallen for that 'singer,' it might have been much more.

here in LA we have Charles Phoenix who's made sort of a career for himself collecting cast off slides from garage sales and has slide shows, offers tours & authors books.

www.charlesphoenix.com

Ok. Time for me to come clean to the world. Twenty-Three years ago my wife and I were moving from our first apartment into a much larger townhouse. I gathered my binders of slide pages, magazines and books which had published images of mine and put it all in a giant lawn and leaf trash bag. My wife thought I was going to pack it on the truck we were using for moving. Instead I put it out with the garbage. To this day it is one of my life's biggest regrets. I have no images to show my kids that before they were born I actually was a "Professional" sports photographer. Too bad you are not talking about my work.

Personally, I'd take throwing them out in steps (I have packrat tendencies, too, so I know it can be hard).

Look through and see if any might be of "artistic value" (your opinion), and throw the rest away. At least they'll take up less space! Then go back through again later, after they've sat a while longer... etc., until you finally let them go.

Or find a slide collector (craigslist?) to give them to, if you still can't bear to toss them.

Building on Margaret's suggestion, which I think is probably the best.  As an alternative though, perhaps there is a way to put them on CD/DVD then you can discard the slides but still keep the images in a lot less space.

If I was anywhere near you, I would take it off your hands. Curiosity may be getting the better of me, but I am interested in the slides now.

OR You could frame (some of) the slides in double sided glass panes. It might make for an interesting art within art type of effect.

You know, there are plenty of nonprofits and museums who would be glad to take these. They serve as wonderful historical records. Often people forget that pictures of travel and everyday life are just as important as pictures of presidents and war. They serve as a way for future generations to look at the way that everyday people live. I know that The Briscoe Center for American History (a branch of The University of Texas at Austin) has an extensive photography collection and would be happy to accept this binder as a donation. You can also look to donate them to other institutions who specialize in this sort of thing.

Just a thought...

Has anyone checked out the B&H Facebook page?! The suggestions on what to do with the binder are off the hook. I must say there are some suggestions I would never have dreamed of being offered up there.

With the holidays coming up next week I suggest the following;

  1. Remove sleeves from binder and take the slides from the individual plastic storage pages.
  2. Scan the slides for future generations, burn them to CDs, and then stack the slides neatly along the bottom of your BBQ.
  3. Spray the plastic sleeves with vegetable oil on both sides (so they don't stick) , coat them with matzoh meal, and stack them into piles of about 20-sheets each.
  4. Soak the binder in grapeseed oil. Make sure it is completely submerged and evenly soaked.
  5. Light the grill and bring the flame to a medium hight (assuming the slides are E-6. If they're Kodachromes lower the flame slightly to avoid flare-ups).
  6. When the slides start curling , place the plastic pages onto the grilling surface carefully and one at a time.
  7. Keep them moving to avoid hot spots. When browned to your liking, remove from flame and serve while still toasty. Goes well with fish or red meat... so-so wth chicken.
  8. As for the binder, place it over the flames for 2 minutes on both sides. Goes well with blue fish (according to an article I one read in the NY Times).

Hi Megan; I found an interesting link, although it might be tricky using the slides...

www.ismism.net/lighting/

-Jamie

Assuming you are still grappling with this weighty problem, consider consulting with the archivists at the nearest historical society.  If they deem the collection of interest, you can preserve the work, while at the same time giving it away, getting it off your desk, and keeping your 'no hoarding' pact.

OR...you could make use of some of the B&H equipment there that mass scans slides and save everying on 1 disc...

I think you should periodically  post/print  a few of these slides so we can all see what is in this treasure trove of yesteryear. I have a couple of thousand slides that I took back in the 70's . As soon as I get aroungd to getting a good scanner I am going to scan review edit and print the best of them for my family to hopefully enjoy . It is like a gift to the  posterity of my family

I inherited my Dad's books of slides. He stored them in the attic for years. Is there a good and safe way to clean the slides?

Thanks.

 If nothing else, scan them and commit them to disk, then see if the former owner's family would have any interest in the images. 

Personally, I enjoy scanning peoples' slides and creating slideshows for them; it gives me a chance to see places I've never been almost as though I'd been there myself.

I thought this was an interesting idea from someone on Flickr that found some old transparencies:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/yarnzombie/4356269005/in/set-72157607000475...

Link them together and make a cool curtain out of them. I've been meaning to hit up yardsales to do something like this myself... someday.

Just think how valuable an authentic series of photos showing "everyday" life from the 1890's is today, if just for the historic value, not even counting the financial value.  Even if the subjects aren't one's own ancestors, it can still be fascinating material.

Right now, the slides might seem boring.   During your lifetime, they may never be worth much, even for historical value.   But your great-granchildren may find them one day, and be captivated.  Be sure to label what you are able identify, so that future generations will know what they're looking at.   The subjects (even buildings and natural features) may no longer exist in the real world by then.

I inherited several thousand slides from a woman whose deceased parents did a lot of travelling and always took their cameras. I couldn't get anyone interested in looking at them so after five years, I spent a dozen hours or so looking at each of the slides and dumping all but 21 of the most interesting. Some I kept because they were from 1947. Some were just humorous. Two were of lighthouses and I gave them to a friend who is a "lighthouse photography nut". It was difficult to toss several garbage bags full of slides, but I did. No regrets yet.

 A lady recently approached us with an album of old photos dating from 1856 (Approx) through to 1900. She had rescued it from a dumpster 30 years ago and just kept it because she liked the old photos. She took it with her on about 20 shifts of house and flat. She asked us to try and trace if we could the owner..After some time we managed too. It turned out to belong to one David Herd, the first man that planted grapes in the Marlborough Province of New Zealand, an area now world famous for its Sauvignon Blanc..Google Marlborough Saugvignon..even Whikipediia has entries.The album was nearly lost until someone like Megan saved it. The precious photos, maybe 100 of them are now back in the hands of the Herd Family.

Dear M.I.: I'm an Imaging Archivist, here in Rochester, N Y.   Home of Eastman

Kodak Co.   and the George Eastman house, also, the  Rochester Institute of

Technology. I'd like to digitize them, & do some casual research as to whom

 they my  belong. I can't guarantee anything, but I can at least check them out.

 Do you want to send them to me, here in Rochester, NY?

 Please RSVP to me when you can.

My E-Mail address is as follows:      Kurtphillip@frontiernet.net

Phone# : if needeed. 585/647/2574 (w/vm).

During the 60's my mother did a lot of travelling in Europe. She took hundreds, (thousands ?), of slides and bought an equal number. After she died I kept all of these slides in her boxes. They went with me on several house moves but I never projected them. It was only a couple of years ago, some 30 years after her death, that I culled the hoard. I didn't throw them all out just in case I get round to looking at them one day.

Dear Megan,

 I would like to know about the rights on these photos if at some time those with artistic strengths were to be used on a online gallery.  I would be glad to help with the scanning and research. Is the photographer whose name is on the slides able to be contacted? Please get in touch when you have the time.

I've got a whole box of vacation slides that I got when I bought the box at a thrift store. No idea who they belonged to. Being a total pack rat I couldn't get rid of them.  I just can't stand to see anything that old go away completely. 

I still lament a single slide I lost 20 years ago.  Couldn't imaging losing all of them.  It would be cool if there was someplace you could send these things where they would label them and put them in a giant file for the future.  Have a constant slide show playing somewhere of random images where it just goes non-stop.  Might be fun.

Being into vintage vehicles, any time I find old images with my vehicle of choice in them I keep them for my collection, it doesn't matter if I don't know the people in them.  I bet there are people that collect images of diffent places and things that might like to see some of these slides.  Who knows.  THe hard part is making that connection between the person and the image.

If you get a price for postage to Victoria Australia I will take them off your hands.

Naturally, I would send the money before they were posted!

Oh, Goodie! I hope someone like you guys will come across my slides and negatives when I die. And don't forget my external hard drives and my prints and books!!

 I inherited my fathers slide and print/negative collection after he passed. I kept them through two moves for sentimental reasons - after all he took them so they meant something to him, and he meant something to me.  

This winter I began to work through my own stack of thousands of pictures - including some Kodak Instamatic shots (yeah I'm that old) and my first image taken with an SLR.  I pitched a lot of stuff and then, on a roll, I pulled out pops files.  

Now he was not a good photographer, just snap a shot artist with lots of good subjects and composition. But somehow he never got the hang of depth of field or auto focus.  blurry people with a razor sharp plate on the table.  And I remain stunned at the number of headless people he knew!  I decided that I would keep only pictures of people I knew, sharp well composed ones, people with all their important body parts etc. and pictures of him. It cut the pile by at least 80%.

I'll scan those, print a few and back up the files. Slides are like wax (vinyl albums for you youngsters), fun and nostalgic but I only need a few of them to take me back in time.  So have fun with the slides, enjoy them, scan the best of them so the images will be preserved. 

You think you have a problem......my Dad passed away a few years ago and he was a world traveller for 20 years in the sixty and seventies and before he passed I took possession of his slides.  Over 10,000!!! That is right for zeros!!!  They are all 35 mm slides.  Fantastic shots of Switzerland, Spain, Thailand, Greece, England, Ireland, Scotland, Hong Kong, and that is just to name a few places.  I am going through the slides one at a time..........and keep some and then the rest......oh what to do!!!!!!  I have been trying to find someone who would be interested in some fantastic vintage photography"....................

so good luck and I guess we both know the future of these slides.

when my father gave them to me he said......do whatever you want with them........so as I now know.....he knew they needed to go in the garbage......BUT......he could not do it........so .......give me strength!!!