Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Looking At Dirty Photographs In My Sunday Best

I have been scanning slides today - a bit of a change from my usual black and white negative scanning. I was of that generation where colour slides were the "Sunday Best" of photography - kept for high days and holidays and far too expensive to use on photographs of the town gas works or candid portraits of Auntie Annie in her back garden. When you bought a colour slide film you paid for the processing as well, and once the film was shot you would pop it in the post and a week or so later 20 or 36 colour slides would arrive in a little plastic case. With the cost of the processing and postage included, the price you paid for a single film was frighteningly high (the equivalent to about £30 - £40 ($50 - $60) in today's prices), and that made you choosy about what you shot. Black and white negative film could be developed in a plastic tank under your eiderdown with the help of some foul-smelling chemicals, so that was the medium for everyday photography.

The main difference with scanning slides is that restoring them to decent condition can be a far more involved process, for the pictures themselves tend to be far more dirty (in the nicest possible meaning of the phrase). Negatives were printed and then put away - it was the resulting prints that got handed around and chewed by the dog. Slides would be handled repeatedly and therefore they gathered dust and fingerprints and gravy stains with the enthusiasm of a hoarder. When - fifty years down the line - the time comes to scan them it can take a considerable amount of time to get rid of the specks, stains and miscellaneous hairs with a digital scrubbing brush.

These two photographs were taken in, I think, 1962 or 1963 during a family holiday to Scotland.  The first photograph shows tramp steamers arriving at Kinlochleven harbour to collect the finished aluminium from the smelting plant there.. The second one must have been taken high on the mountains overlooking the loch and, as that seems to be me in the picture, the photographer must have been my brother, Roger. I can still remember that holiday, although by now that memory is covered in a layer of dust and old fingerprints. It is a shame that there is no digital scrubbing brush you can apply to life.


  1. I have scanned all the family slides, though ours mostly are color. EctaChrome and KodaChrome, 24 or 64 ASA. Well, that's the sort of photographer my dad was. You have described exactly the state I found them in.
    The two you show here are excellent studies. My mother had a similar silhouette of my younger brother, fishing, that she treasured. She took it with her beloved Argus. My dad used a Kodak. I think he might have turned up his nose at my first camera, a Minolta and later a Nikon. Not American, you see. Then he would have come round.

  2. Isn't that first slide a beauty! We have scanned our slides too and I know what you mean about Sunday Best. That made me smile.

  3. Beautiful slides. My parents could never afford them so we are stuck with whatever a Brownie Kodak Camera would do:)


Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...