10 Feb

Mostly, I am happy I grew up when I did. But at times I envy today’s generation with their all-digital lives. As a downsizer, my envy is particularly strong when it comes to photographs.

My little Brownie camera served me well as a child, with its grainy black and white photos, but after college, I bought a better camera, and photography became one of my avocations. For over ten years, I took classes of all kinds, even meeting my husband in one of them, in a class on darkroom techniques, and produced thousands of photos—mostly black and white and color slides, and later, color prints before switching to digital in 2005. I had a stint with a Polaroid camera, too. I occasionally earned money from my photography. 

The focus of this post is my collection of about 4000 slides. (I will deal with prints in a future post. The process is not all that different.) Compared with color prints, slide film had a broader range of colors and was cheaper to process than color prints. Thus, it was my film of choice in those early years, especially during my travels. 

Originally, downsizing the slide collection was low on my list. Even 4000 slides don’t take up as much room as 100 books. I even considered leaving this task until after the next big move, as I am my collection of letters my family and I wrote to each other during my early adult years. 

But curiosity got the better of me, and besides, sorting through photos is a great task for a cold winter day. It’s fun to relive those memories.  In some previous organizing effort, I had put all the slide boxes (holding 20 or 36 slides) into square tin cookie boxes, as a protection against dampness. There were seven of these plus a couple of smaller cardboard boxes. In addition to my own slides, I had some taken by my uncle, who owned a Leica, which was the Rolls Royce of cameras back then.

MY CURRENT GOAL: My goal is to reduce the collection into a manageable amount for digitizing. I am aiming for cutting it down to about 1500 slides, or slightly over one-third. 

VIEWING: For viewing slides en masse, I have a lightweight, flat lightboard that can hold up to 24 slides. (This lightboard is also for art tracing and cost about $25 on Amazon. A slightly more expensive version will allow you to use your camera to scan slides). But the slides are still small, and sometimes I need to use a magnifying glass. I still own a slide projector and could view them that way, but it takes time to put all those fiddly slides into a carousel. 

CRITERIA: As with my book collection, my first task was to consider my criteria for keeping a slide: 

  • Is it a good photo: Is it adequately exposed (not too dark or too light), in focus, reasonably composed?
  • Is it unique (and not too duplicative of one or more other photos)?
  • Does it offer useful or interesting information? Does it remind me of a place I’ve been, or a person I know (or knew), or a time of my life? Is it important for telling a story (of a trip I’ve taken, an event I attended, or a family occasion), AND/OR
  • Will it give me pleasure looking at it again? Is it artistic? Emotionally evocative?

Each slide should meet at least three of these criteria to be kept, preferably including the first one. 

DECISION-MAKING: For this pass, I make quick decisions. Four similar views of the Grand Canyon? I pick only the best one. Four views of the Grand Canyon at different times of the day? I might keep several if they meet my other criteria, OR I might decide that pictures of the Grand Canyon are readily available on the Internet. Likewise, how many photos of flowers do I need from an orchid farm in Hilo?   

UNLABELED SLIDES: One challenge I face is that my past labeling of slides was uneven—the contents of each box are generally identified, but not so much the individual slides. Should I keep a slide of an unidentified place or building that evokes no memories unless that picture itself is outstanding? Is it still part of the story of that trip? Worse are the boxes of slides where the slides are neither numbered nor labeled, and their order is not obvious. In that case, even the story becomes muddled. So far, I’ve erred on the side of caution. 

SORT FIRST! Sometimes, pleased with myself at having pruned a six-box trip down to two, I find another two boxes in a different location, almost like an afterthought. I realized then that in my eagerness to get started, I should have done an initial sort of the boxes themselves. 

EMOTION VS CONTENT: For family events, my task becomes even more difficult. One Christmas looks much like another, except for the aging faces and changing hairstyles of the participants. Even the tree looks the same from year to year. But these are people I care about. I prune out the photos that don’t show family members at their best. 

With the random boxes and two tins down, I have a way to go. I’ve been able to eliminate about three-fifths of the slides I have reviewed—not far from my original goal. As you know, I am a big fan of culling in this slow downsizing process, but does it make sense given the number of photographs? 

NEXT STEPS: DIGITIZING: I had to weigh up buying a slide scanner and doing the job myself or farming it out to a company that specializes in converting film, video, cassette tapes, slides, and photos to digital format. The latter is not cheap, but it saves time. I use a local company that has gone national called EverPresent. But there are many others, such as Legacy Box

FUTURE STEP: ORGANIZING. Later, I will decide how to organize the digital files. Will I want to create digital or actual albums for selected trips or occasions, something I can easily page through in my old age, should I be so lucky to get there. Matt Paxton, the downsizing expert, suggests in his new book, Keep the Memories, Lose the Stuff (my review coming soon!) using The Photo Managers for help with these organizing tasks. 

Matt encourages us to eliminate 80% of our pictures. I’m not there yet, and maybe I don’t want to be. For me, photographs are one of the best ways to preserve life’s stories.

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