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.

Please share the Blogger love. There is a handy Google +1 button on this page. You can also find me on Google+.


  1. Excellent old Kodachrome. Those are some wonderful slides.
    It will be here long after all the digital photographic garbage bites the dust and even longer. Needless to say, I regret the demise of Kodachrome. I still shoot much more regular film (both transparency and reversal) than I have shot digital. Between formats (and passwords) and other digital disadvantages I see no reason to quit real photography until I am forced to quit when no one makes film or chemistry.

  2. Very interesting Kodachrome photos, you already got me with the Olivetti piece alone (surprise, surprise). The third pic is at Wabash Ave. by the Loop in downtown Chicago. And I love the photos of the camera shop and the red car.

    Like you, I'm also incurably curious and "voyeuristic." ( :

  3. Wow that is really extraordinary! They sure seemed to have a nice life. That Olivetti storefront would make an awesome typosphere postcard.

  4. One of the factors that will get me to buy a whole camera just to get the lens is if there's a half-exposed roll of film in it. I have an old Vivitar 35mm in such a state that I'm slowly exposing the rest of the roll on. it's always interesting to see what little slice of someone else's life you might get

  5. What I wouldn't give to get hold of that BMW R75...

  6. You can have the Beemer, I want that Chrysler Imperial!

  7. These are such wonderful photos.

    And Guys, I'm in the fight for the BMW too. What a classic bike. Look at those beautiful panniers!

  8. Really interesting windows into the past! The color makes it all present and real in an eerie way.

    You will also find this interesting if you're not yet aware of this photographer. Robert M told me about her last night:


  9. Bill: The last roll of Kodachrome was processed here in Kansas. One of National Geographic's photographers traveled around the world for that last 36 frames. Plug some keywords into Youtube for the video.

    Ton: I regret not having purchased the Olivetti slide the first time it was listed. It sold the second time for $41 in heavy bidding. I also recognized some Chicago locations.

    Notagain: I like the postcard idea! That image is in my desktop wallpaper rotation.

    Ted: Cool. I ran across a website last year that featured found images from old cameras. I'll have to track it down. Sheepishly, I admit to having a partial roll of Reala 120 sitting in a Yashica TLR. I need to send it out and see if anything good comes of it. It was the last roll of film I took after getting a Canon Digital Rebel.

    Erik: That bike is to die for! The scene was just perfect with this fashion conscience family.

    Miguel: Words cannot express how much I love finned beasts and the Imperials from that era. That car probably cost as much as a small home at the time.

    Scott: Yeah, get in line ;-)

    Richard: I'll check out that website. Rummage around on my Google+ collection if you want to see some of the Ektachrome and Kodachrome similes I've done. I can add artificial grain or leave it out. I tend to leave it out unless I'm doing black and white conversions. The DxO Filmpack 3 software was offered free through Sony not to long ago. Love it.

  10. As a life-long photographer now in my 70's, the mystery of how those slides got from the archives a well-to-do family to an eBay seller is a haunting one. One of my fears is that not only my photos, but the photos and papers of my family going back for several generations could some day be dumpsterized when the kids, frantically taking time off from more pressing chores, have to come over and clean the old place out.

  11. Great photos, Dwayne! People took a little more pride in how they presented themselves back then. That Olivetti window display is cool, too, with the "give the gift of an Olivetti Lettera 32" suggestion on the window. Try doing that with an iStore-front these days!

  12. TonysVision: I know exactly how you feel. I also don't relish being in the position of having to help clean out parent and in-law's estates for the same reason. There are just too many ways to make mistakes.

    teeritz: Yeah, these photos are great. I can only hope that some of my images have lasting value. This series also made me think about the balance between subject isolation and context clues. I tend to shoot at 44mm equivalent with a few exceptions. I might have to try including a bit more of the streets for context. As for the Olivetti store, it is hard to imagine the time when our mechanical friends were bright, shiny and new.

  13. Haunting, indeed! Prior to photos, paintings/drawings could be very stirring but it seems to me they can be artistically interpreted from the artist's perspective. Photos can be... but they are a distinct fraction of a second in time. I could picture my daughters (both in their teens) in a similar progressive manner, less the 'mod' styles. I have a huge bag of my mother's photos from the 30s to 60s that she never got around to putting into photo albums. With a blind grab of a photo from the bag, I can recall here is a photo of my great uncle so and so but who is that woman with him? My mother might know, but she has since passed and my grandmother would be able to actually tell you the story associated with that photo, but no one remembers. We all have that uncle or great grandmother in a photo, long forgotten, only remembered when we reach in that bag and it is pulled out. So much better to remember them living than visiting a cemetery. It is heart wrenching when I think my kids (or grand kids) will toss such pics that were a special moments of past memories. I can here my mom say "Get the camera and take a picture!" --- it will last longer.

  14. lovely pictures. in those days, photos taking were rare precious moments reserved for special occasions only. at least for me when I was growing up. my brother and I had only an album each recording our first day of life to toddler stage. these photos are so precious to us. my kids have thousands of digital photos. photo taking is no longer special and sometimes they refused to pose for a picture. will they appreciate them when they are older?

  15. Hi, I don't know if you got my previous message but if your ever interested in selling the slides you have of Jill & Marilyn you purchased from shemidas please let me know

    1. Hi. Your previous message must not have come through. Unfortunately, I do not own the slides. I copied the image scans from the ebay auction. I may actually pull down this post to avoid any potential conflicts with Blogger terms of service. Are you related to the family? If this post helped make a connection to the past, that is a good thing. Feel free to email me directly at coyotesareus@gmail.com


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