Monday, May 4, 2015

When negatives prove valuable

This story begins with a picture taken decades ago and ends this week, following a funeral, a mystery, and a mix of technologies. 

I was attending the funeral for a beloved aunt. While paying respects to the family, I glimpsed a photograph that looked familiar. It was taken in my parent’s home. By me. More than 30 years ago.

In the photo, my aunt and uncle were sitting together, looking happy and peaceful. But who was the woman at the end of the couch? This was one of the few photos of my aunt and uncle together at that time -- he died not too long after -- I was determined to find out what I could about the third party.

To unravel the mystery of an early 1980s color print, I snapped a picture of the framed photo with my smartphone and emailed it to several family members. A cousin confirmed it was taken at her bridal shower, and the unknown woman was from her father’s family.

I shared this information with the grieving family, glad to put a date, occasion, and name to the photo. Still, I wasn’t satisfied. I had taken the shot, so surely I must have more photos somewhere from that day.

I visited my photo archive, also known as the top shelf of a rarely used bedroom closet. I combed through boxes of photos, but couldn’t find anything. I flipped through pages of slides; still, no success.

Finally, I dragged down an overstuffed binder of negative sleeves and contact prints. Depending how young you are, that previous sentence probably made no sense. Let’s just say I went through my old photography paraphernalia and found exactly what I was looking for.

So now what? I really wanted my cousins to have a nice picture of their parents, just the two of them, without the unrelated woman crowding in. I pulled the negative and handed it to my husband, who's more tech savvy. I thought he could erase the third person from the couch through some software wizardry, but I’ve been watching too much CSI on TV.

He took an old-fashioned approach using much newer technology. Basically, he scanned the negative into PhotoShop, adjusted color and contrast, cropped in close on my aunt and uncle, and then saved it as a .JPG. I emailed the new version to family members and, if they wanted, they could get an actual print to replace the old framed one by sending it to anyone from Walgreens to Shutterfly to Mpix. 

Only later did I reflect on the technologies involved in bringing new life to an old photo, taken with a 35mm SLR camera. Again, depending on your age, you may not know the camera reference, but you could always look it up on your smartphone.

I had been tempted once or twice to throw away all my old negatives. I couldn’t imagine ever printing them again. Now I know they’re a valuable resource and a tether to my past. As for printing, well that has taken on new meaning when you can email images and have prints ready for pickup or arrive in the mail.

Once again I find new technology never really replaces old technology. Drawing on the strengths of each, you get the best of both worlds. In this case, a positive negative.

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