The Kodachrome Blues

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Sometimes I take on projects that I think will be either fun or necessary. For the past two weeks I have been working on a project that has turned out to be neither. I finally decided to go through the many photo albums and loose photos cluttering up the closet in my office. It is a backbreaking, eye-blurring, bloody paper cut trip to memory hell.

Unlike today where every outing, meal, sleeping cat, crying baby and hairy nostril close-up is a reason to take a photo, I barely remember my father ever using a camera. My childhood photo album is proof of this. I think from the time I was born until I was a teenager, my father only had one roll of film in his camera. There is a photo of my baptism and then it jumps to Easter Sunday at about age four, my first Communion when I was seven, playing with my dog at age 12 and then…nothing. I don’t even need an entire album for these photos; the plastic inserts that come with a new wallet would be enough. And just to fill out the wallet I’d have to leave in the fake photo and the identification card that comes with it.

I began this project by taking all of the photos out of photo albums and sorting them. The albums I used in the 1970s are the worst. Besides the cheesy orange sunsets on the covers, the photos are stuck to the pages with some type of sticky glue substance that over the years just flakes away. Unless, of course, there is a photo that you really want to keep and then the glue sticks like a NASA space shuttle approved sealant. Speaking of photos from the 1970s, I would like to sit down with someone from Kodak and question them about the film they were using. I would also like to discuss this with someone from Fotomat, but I haven’t seen one of those little parking lot shacks in about 30 years. I would also like to tell Paul Simon that he was just wrong when, in 1973, he sang, “Kodachrome, give us those nice bright colors.” (He is also wrong for continuing to wear a bad toupee and writing bad music but that’s another tangent). Unlike the crisp black and white photos of the 1950s and 1960s, my photos from the 1970s have deteriorated over the years to become nothing more that a hazy 3 x 5 index card. All of my photos from that era have the same muted colors of a Tequila Sunrise. No matter where the photo was taken, it looks like either a heavy fog rolled in or Great White is about to take the stage. The instant photos from my sister’s 1960s Polaroid Swinger camera haven’t fared much better. Through the years the images have started to fade and peel. Everyone looks like burn victims. It’s creepy.

Once I pulled out all of the photos I divided them up into sections:

  • Photos of me
  • Photos of my family
  • Photos of my friends
  • Photos from my jobs
  • Who the hell are these people?

There are a lot of photos of old people from the 1940s and 1950s and I have no idea who these people are. I’m assuming they’re dead relatives but there are two reasons I’m afraid to just throw them out. First of all, I always hear about someone who bought an old painting for $2 at a garage sale and it turned out to be a long lost Matisse worth millions of dollars. Or, someone finds an old family photo and there’s Abraham Lincoln standing in the shadows. For all I know, that unidentified man in the sleeveless undershirt, stirring spaghetti sauce could be Al Capone. Secondly, I don’t want dead relatives to haunt me because I put photos of them in the trash. It’s bad enough they’ve been stuffed in an old Hush Puppies box for decades.

My concert photos from the 1970s are some of the worst photography you will come across. For example: Here is Led Zeppelin.

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And I’m sure Freddy Mercury would have wanted to frame this one of him.

Queen

No wonder cameras weren’t banned from concerts back then. I certainly wasn’t any competition to legendary rock photographer Annie Leibovitz.

One thing I do like about the old photos is that none of them are perfect. You weren’t able to see the image right away and then keep snapping until everyone’s eyes were open. Some of the best photos are the mistakes. I have more photos of my mother staring into the camera with her eyes wide open in shock. Unless the photographer was coming at her with an ax I don’t understand why she always had that look of terror.

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And then there are the cakes. Why do people want to have photos of cakes? None of the images are sharp enough to read the inscription on the cake. It’s just a black and white blur of frosting and candles. Unless someone ends up facedown in the cake, these photos are unnecessary.

Today, people primarily use their phones for cameras and instead of preserving their photos in an album they upload them to the cloud – never to be seen again. I’m still glad that I have hard copies of my memories. I’ll never part with the photo of my dad holding a basket of tomatoes from our garden, or my Aunt Mickey and Uncle Babe carrying me at my Christening. But, I must admit it was pretty easy to toss out the plethora of baby photos from friends that I have accumulated over the years. I think those toothless, bonneted, drooling baby pictures should stay in the family. Except this one. This is me and I think the look on my face sums up the attitude I will have for the rest of my life.

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