Taking control of boxfuls of photographs

Taking control of boxfuls of photographs

I like taking photos. I’m not going to pretend I’m any good at it. I’ve just always figured that if I take a lot of pictures, I’ll luck into a good one or two.

For a time, I was very interested in black-and-white photography. I started buying bulk film, loading canisters myself, developing it  and making prints. I loved that: I could spend an entire evening in my improvised darkroom on one print.

I also shot a lot of color film. Heck, I shot slides, too. Back when you had to take a roll of film in and have it developed, this created a storage problem for me.

A couple summers ago, I finally confronted boxes of photos and negatives. I decided I would start scanning all my pictures, and figured the way to make it a less daunting task was to set the goal of scanning one envelope of pictures a day.

One of the benefits of doing this is that you get to see pictures you haven’t seen in a while.

In my case, especially when I was shooting black-and-white film, I would develop it, make a contact sheet – an 8 by 10 of all the images on a roll of film – and pick a photo to print, then focus on that. I might not ever look again at the other negatives from that roll.

One of my favorites is from a day at my parents’ home, when my sister brought her new puppy to a family gathering. My sons and one of my nieces played with the dog on a bench in the yard. I remember waiting for the photo, and I was pretty happy when I developed the film and saw this image. But until I started scanning, I hadn’t looked at the rest of the film in all these years. I shot a whole roll, after all.

It’s one of the benefits of digital photography that I can look at these pictures much more easily now. I can share them.

It took some time, but I wound up scanning more than one envelope at a time, and so I suppose in a month of evenings, I was finished. (Well, except that I’ve backed up this archive on three different external hard drives.)

There is a little voice deep inside of me that worries about going all-digital with photography. What if, 20 years from now, the .jpg goes the way of the floppy disk? I don’t see that happening; too many photos already in existence, too many companies offering online storage and printing. But you never know. I’m not going to lose any sleep over the possibility, but I saved all my black-and-white negatives. They don’t take up much room.

And heck, some day I might set up a darkroom again.


Next: A new use for the scanner.


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Jodi Heckel wrote on August 17, 2011 at 1:08 pm
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I love this! It must have been fun to look at all those old photos you hadn't seen in years. I have negatives in various places in my house ... I think. Haven't seen 'em in years, so hopefully they survived the last couple of moves. And I still have an enlarger as well, so if you know of any creative new use for that ...

Mike Howie wrote on August 17, 2011 at 5:08 pm
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One of the cool things was looking at travel pictures that I hadn't looked at in a long time. And now that they're in digital form, I find that I glance at some of them from time to time. As for the enlarger, I gave mine away on freecycle. I think it was gone in like a day. And I sold some other darkroom equipment on eBay.

Julie Wurth wrote on August 18, 2011 at 11:08 am
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Can I pay you to do this at my house? :) I have so many photos to organize - I like your incremental approach. Every time I try to start even organizing them into boxes or whatever I get sidetracked looking at them and then run out of time!

Mike Howie wrote on August 18, 2011 at 11:08 am
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You have more distractions than I do. But I'm telling you, this was the only way I was ever going to get it done. (And doing it let me look at the pictures, too.) Also, I was careful with how I labeled the folders I put the digital pictures into; that makes it a lot easier to find something now.