Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Massive Project Begins . . .

Once upon a time . . . there was a young man with a passion for photography. There was nothing in his background as a small-town, farm boy that should have fed this passion but you can't argue with destiny. He farmed to pay the bills and support his family and worked at his passion nights, weekends, whenever he could. He was a child of the Depression so hard work was familiar and, throughout his life, he thought a 15-hour day was pretty normal. He encouraged his wife to learn to hypo and dry photographs and to learn oil coloring, and he trained his two children as photographers. He loved it all.

Of course, I'm writing of my father -- a craftsman, a perfectionist, an artist. I'm proud to follow in his footsteps and to carve out my place in the business he created. I've had several friends who have pointed out to me in the past few years that I'm "sitting on a gold mine." They are referring to the fact that I possess practically every negative taken by my father, my brother, and me from the mid-1940's to the present. I have no way to estimate how many there are but it must be in the hundreds of thousands of negatives -- maybe a million or more. Many times throughout the year I'll be contacted by former customers to pull their old negative file and make prints for them. Just this week, I scanned and created digital files from bridal portraits my father took in 1951. And the "gold mine" my friends are speaking of is not the money I make off of projects like this but by the fact that I have the ability to help people remember those split-seconds in their lives that were meaningful -- a gold mine of memories.

Our old negative files are organized . . . and they're not organized. It depends on how you look at it. If you know WHEN photos were taken, we can usually put our hands on the negatives pretty easily. Most people remember their wedding date or the year a child was born but a lot of times our minds can play tricks on us when remembering the correct year or month for other events like family portraits, school events, etc. It's been in the back of my mind for a couple of years that I ought to come up with a better way to access the boxes and boxes of negatives I have. Lynn and I talked on Friday and I finally decided that I could debate it forever and not make any progress so we could just jump off the cliff and start the organization even though we know it may take a couple of years. So . . . on Friday, Lynn began entering negative files into a data base that we will be able to search by the name of the client regardless of year. Once this process is complete (and it may take forever), we should be able to search by name and get the year the photos were taken along with the file number for the negatives. She started with the most difficult box which is all the negatives taken by my father prior to 1950 (after 1950, he began numbering his envelopes and entering them into a yearly ledger book). Of course, we're getting sidetracked as we always do when looking at old negatives. Lynn found several family names that she recognized and that she just HAD to take a peek at. There are also many document copies (marriage licenses, army discharge papers, etc) that my father used to do for people before there were Xerox machines which I find fascinating. One of the most interesting discoveries was in the envelope labeled "Little Linda Johnson." Since Lynn and I both know Linda (now Linda Parker), she opened the envelope to see the negatives and actually found not only an old proof from the sitting but what must be my father's first price list. I've scanned them both for you to see and it absolutely amazes me what his prices were. Not even considering the inflation aspect, I know how much time and effort goes into producing an 8x10 black and white print. I understand better what all those 15-hour days were for.

So the project has started. How long it will take is anyone's guess at this point and Lynn and I may have white hair before it's done but we're going to try. As time goes on and we get a rhythm to our work, I also hope to create a reasonably priced way to scan these old negatives and sell them as digital files. I know as I get older that I really appreciate my family history in photographs and I suspect many of you are the same. I'll be sharing some of our special "finds" in The History Channel album on my Facebook page.

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