A school trip to the Baltic in 1974 brought the disapproval of my paternal grandmother: I had used seven rolls of film to take photographs. The visit had included Copenhagen, Malmo, Gotland and Leningrad (as Saint Petersburg was known at the time). Seven rolls of film had meant eighty-four photographs, the sort of number of pictures someone now might take in a day with a smartphone. Cost was, of course, the issue: my grandmother disapproved of how much my parents had to pay for the developing and printing of the photographs. Photography for my grandmother was about serious matters, posed family pictures, holidays, visits, important events. A thirteen year old boy’s snapshots did not fall into her idea of what could be considered as serious.
Not everyone shared my grandmother’s attitude, a maternal grand aunt seems to have been positively profligate in her use of her camera, making an extensive pictorial record of her visits to her large extended family.
My mother has one of her aunt’s photographs hanging on the wall. Taken around 1965 or 1966, the photograph features the small boy who lived on the farm. The interesting part of the picture is in the background detail. Human beings do not change much over the years; individuals change, but people generically don’t alter much. Hairstyles may differ and in years to come the small boy’s shirt and shorts will look quaint, but real changes are man made.
The farm well with its concrete cover lies in the foreground, it was to prove invaluable in the drought of 1976. Close by is a tall round corrugated iron water tank that was used for the collection of rainwater. The well water was “hard” and my grandmother would use the “soft” rainwater for the weekly wash. To the rear lies the barton and the haybarn, the small rectangular bales will forever date the picture to the mid 20th Century.
It would not have occurred to us to have taken photographs of the farmyard simply for having them; why would anyone have wanted such pictures when farms for miles around offered similar scenes every day? Yet were our daily lives not as important as the people we met every day?
Perhaps there were others in Somerset as profligate with their picture taking as my grand aunt, but who went around taking the odd pictures that are now interesting: pictures of well covers, water tanks, bales and barns. Perhaps someone walked through bartons and cowstalls snapping away without thought for expense or criticIsm. Perhaps, out there on the web somewhere, there are recorded those things that provided a landscape for the lives featured in everyone else’s snaps.
I have long suspected that, since the invention of roll film, the “talented and much saught after photographers” we’re just rich guys who could afford to buy good kit and shoot off hundreds of snaps, and in that lot find a good one.
Negatives. Now that I am of a certain age I find that I am inheriting the photographs of my family.
What I have found is that the negatives are far more interesting. Perhaps because people, like my father did, gave away the prints.
It is also fortunate that I have available to me low cost scanners and photo processing software. Prints and negatives have been scanned, ravages of time, to the media not the subjects, corrected and all saved to disc. Copies have been distributed to all the current generations and have caused much amazement and laughter.
Even elderly relatives are prompted to laugh and comment on seeing some old object, or family friend. Often resulting in the telling of some recalled forgotten day, or person, and what happened. It gives me pleasure.
My mother has become an excellent archivist in her old age, gathering up collections of old photographs she has been given through the years and sorting them into chronological order and putting them into appropriate albums.
Sadly, we are in a situation that is the reverse of yours and have no negatives.
I was a keen cyclist as a youngster, and would roam far and wide. I now have the pleasure of living where I used to cycle to ‘get out into the country’ but have a deep regret that, all those years ago, I was unable (through cost) to snap the ordinary streets where I now live. There would be great pleasure in seeing the current view from the lenses of 50 years ago.
Nowadays you can see your streets of 5 years ago via the medium of google Earth. Not so those of several decades ago.
Seeing some of the street scenes from the 1960s and 1970s can be a surprise. You assume that little of the scene changed and then realize how different many things have become.