Discoveries in the Details

The most boring, mind-numbing, tedious part of the slide scanning I’ve been doing has to be dealing with the dirt on the scans. Although I did have one slide this week that only took about 5 minutes of work from start to finish, some of them entail hours of work zoomed in close, retouching the scan spot by spot.

And yet… it also means I’m looking at these pictures more closely than I’ve ever looked at them before. And I’m noticing details in them that I never noticed before:

  • In the self portrait of Dad that I posted last week, I noticed he had a pipe in his hand. He almost never smoked a pipe when I knew him; it was always a cigar.
  • There’s a picture of my mother looking at a kiddie train ride somewhere; we’ve never been able figure out where. She doesn’t remember. But you can see a bus in the background, and after lightening up the picture in Photoshop, it looks like it’s in MTA* livery. So it’s probably in the Boston area.
  • There’s a picture of the two of them sitting on a picnic table, which I’d assumed was taken down the Cape. But when I was zoomed in close, I noticed Dad had the same kind of tag on him that was in another picture of my mother, grandmother and great aunt that was taken at Old Sturbridge Village.
  • One of the pictures I worked on in June was a picture of my brother Brian. It’s a long shot of him on a pony, and I’d never looked very closely at the face before. And while their faces are dissimilar, the expression on his face is exactly the same as one I’ve seen on his son Matt’s face dozens of times.
  • In the picture I finished last night, I’m holding Dad’s folding medium format rangefinder camera while he was obviously shooting the slide in 35mm. I don’t remember seeing the medium format pictures–are they prints filed away in albums, or are they the medium format slides I haven’t seen in decades?

I remember Dad’s cameras very well. At the time the picture was taken, I was 14, and I think I was just holding the camera for him–it’s not in the other pictures of me. But eventually he did let me use them, and I used them off and on through the latter years of  high school and college. Both were rangefinders; you focused the camera by superimposing two images in the viewfinder. Neither camera had a light meter or auto exposure; you used the exposure recommendations packaged with the film, and hoped you set the camera right; the batch of slides I’m working on now are almost all a couple of stops overexposed, which I’ve been trying to correct (to some extent) in Photoshop. I tended to favor the 35mm camera because I had a darkroom and was set up for 35mm.

But my photography took a quantum leap upward when I got my first SLR as a college graduation present, about a year after he died. No more guessing at the exposure, just watch the needle. Composition is easier when you can see exactly what the lens sees. And interchangeable lenses! I almost never use the “normal” focal range anymore, but thats what the rangefinder gave you. As good a photographer as Dad was, he was limited by the tools he was using. I wish he’d lived long enough to use my cameras with me.

* Metropolitan Transit Authority: the 1947 – 1964 predecessor to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), also known as the “T”. Boston’s transit agency.