Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Other People's Lives: Confessions of a Kodachrome Voyeur

I must confess to a morbid fascination with other people's lives as revealed by their analog representations. It is no secret that I enjoy rummaging in thrift stores and antique malls. Inevitably, I run across cassettes and sorters full of slides. Rendered in the Kodachrome and Ektachrome transparencies of old, strangers look particularly exotic and engaging.

Recently, I ran across a collection of slides offered by an ebay liquidator http://www.ebay.com/usr/shesmidas She had scanned each at fairly high resolution. The image that first caught my eye was of a mother and daughter peering into an Olivetti typewriter store window display.

Pretty amazing, huh? This is a wonderful image, even for those who are not typewriter obsessed. And I am totally, madly in love with the look of Kodachrome.

Having realized that the collection had some very solid street images from around the world, I started copying away. And then I had a very odd realization...

This was the same girl...

And the same Mom... and that must be Dad who was normally on the other side of the camera. I know that reality well as there are few photos of me floating around.

So, is it good or bad to watch a total stranger's child grow up? My favorite photographic form is the art of the wandering snap known as street photography. I am constantly capturing strangers as a window on culture. But this seems different.

Certainly, it is different in an amazing way. This family trotted around the globe when flying cost a small fortune and flight attendants treated passengers like humans. Put in Dad-the-photographer's shoes, wouldn't I want people to enjoy my artistic work after I am gone?

We've spent the last sixteen years in the fast-forward maw of parenthood and are increasingly aware of how quickly our eldest will be off to college and a life of her own. Seeing a stranger's child grow up even faster on Kodachrome is just kind of weird.

Why do I look? Well, I am in love with all things photographic. From a purely clinical perspective, these images are a clean glimpse of another time. The look and feel is something I enjoy emulating through software editing tools like DxO Filmpack. But as a parent, it is hard to be entirely technical when looking at these images.

In photographic terms, this was a pretty amazing life. Picture perfect and lived, at least partly, in exotic places worth commemorating in permanent, analog form. And to be able to practice the art of street photography...

There are always vacations sometimes the family came along for the ride...

But eventually, the child grows up and starts moving on...

 Until the boyfriend becomes part of the life of the family... 

  And the baby is all grown up. Just like that. *click* *click* *click*

Photography is the art of storytelling. This random story is fascinating and made me contemplate my own life and family. The best photos are the ones that help us relate to our world or at least slow us  down enough to think.

I am also curious by nature. Who were these people? Did they live good lives past the late 1960s? How did all of these slides, a family history writ large, end up in the hands of an ebay seller?

I had been mulling this post for a month and was finally moved to action by reading this post from a fellow Google+ photographer: http://www.enlightphoto.com/views/2013/10/14/a-photographic-life-and-then.htm  This professional took on the task of helping a family sort through many thousands of slides left behind by another pro. Unfortunately, the photographer took the encrypted passwords for digital storage to the grave. That is a mistake I'll need to avoid.

Maybe I am hopelessly voyeuristic. Either way, I'd love to read your thoughts and opinions on this post. In the last month, this blog kicked over the 60,000 hit mark with precious little attention from me. I very much appreciate people like you who stop by and actually read all the way to the end.

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