Excavating and archiving

I’m scanning my film negatives onto my computer. This is no small task. My father was a photographer – he started off with social pages for his university’s yearbook. This lead him to owning a camera store. He taught my brothers to take photos. They were photographers for their high school yearbooks, and also knew how to develop film by hand. I remember the sweet and toxic smells of the chemicals in the small darkroom in our basement.

I learned how to take photos as well, but never to develop them. I did an outdoors education program during high school that encouraged us to take slides to be used for slide shows. Instead of doing Grade 12 at high school, where I could have taken photos for a year book, I instead headed off on a scholarship to an international college. In the meantime, the first automatic cameras were produced, and of course, my father, who loved gadgets and new technology, got ones for the family. When I left for college, I had my handy automatic camera (a pentax, I think) and lots of film.

The negative aspects of my photographer persona (which I would have never considered at that age): the way I used my camera as a shield and a way to stand apart from actually participating in events or life; the way it was developing nostalgia within me at an early age and the need to keep and record and archive and hang on, sometimes, for too long; and finally a sweet but needy generosity (as learned from my family), to make extra copies of photos to give to the people who were in them, to have negatives on hand in case people wanted them. Although kind and giving, there is such a thing as being too nice. I learned eventually that I might have had unvoiced desires for those favours to be returned to me, and that at times, constantly being of service to others did no favours to me, and that sometimes people didn’t want or care about that service.

Yet, at the same time, I can look back and marvel at the records of lives that I created, the amusement of capturing funny moments, the enjoyment of viewing the world with an artist’s vision. I can allow myself to indulge in nostalgia without getting caught up in it, and if I find time, and expecting nothing in return, it will be fun to share some of those photos with people who are in them, since it is so much easier these days to send photos electronically or post them to facebook.

Still, it’s an odd set of emotions that come up looking through so many years of my history (until the negatives stopped, and became computer files). Couldn’t I have had eyeglasses a little more stylish? Did I really date that guy? How did I get from there to here? Here’s a photo of L, when we just met, before the tragedies, a year of small resentments and never keeping in touch. Here’s R, before I figured out how damaged and unpleasant he was. Here’s K, still with that full mane of hair, and a shining smile. I’m glad we’re still in touch. There are photos of people who have come back in touch through facebook, others who are on facebook but I haven’t connected with, and rather a lot more, particularly some of the international students, who have disappeared into their lives and who, I wouldn’t need to be in regular contact with, but would love to know where they are. But I guess that’s a lesson I learned slowly, me who had the ability to keep in touch with everyone I’d ever met, for so many years. Sometimes, we let go.


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