The Land Before jpegs

The lights go off. My whole family is sitting in the dark facing one wall. There’s a faint humming and then a blinding flash! KA-Click! And up comes the first image!

These are fond memories for me. Actually, memories of memories. The family slide shows were always fun despite the hoots from the audience that the projector runner was going too fast, too slow or that the picture was out of focus. That big silver screen was magical and the “Zoooop!” sound that it made as it was extend up, ready for the show to begin was always so appealing to hear.

The piles of carousels from vacations past. The pictures of aunts and uncles who looked impossibly young. The popcorn!

It’s interesting to think back to a time not so long ago when I was carefully picking out the right ASA film for the picture taking that I was planning to do. The special holsters for the telephoto, macro and zoom lenses. The equipment was fun. It made you feel professional. You knew what you were doing and the fourteen pounds of camera equipment lashed to your torso proved it.

When I was young, like so many other kids, I got a little Instamatic 110. It even had the pedestal for the flash cubes, supposedly to cut down on redeye. That little black rectangle and I went all over the place. It was dragged to camp, hiking and Disney World. I vividly remember taking “pictures” even though I knew it was out of film, just for the satisfaction of hearing that “click” of the shutter and the ratchet sound to advance the film.

The 110 naturally, took print film and in various dusty boxes are zip lock baggies with piles of thick prints, corners neatly rounded and going sepia with time.

Then at some point, I got my Dad’s old 35mm. It was a Minolta. Its steel body made it weigh a ton and there was only the one, do everything, lens. It was fully manual and the as far electronics went, there was built in light meter. That’s it. I loved it, used it well and if the lack of lenses made it difficult, if not impossible to take some photos, it made up for it by taking the most exquisite black and whites of any camera I’ve ever owned.

On one particular trip to the Middle East, we took a long bus ride and I foolishly put it in the pocket of the seat in front of me. Naturally, being a kid, I forgot it when we disembarked. I realized it just as the bus was pulling away and started going bananas. My Father quickly left me with the baggage and managed to chase down the bus after a few blocks. To this day, I’m totally astonished that he managed to get the camera back. I also NEVER put personal belongings in the seat pouch again. I still have the camera.

For some reason, taking slides always seemed to be the realm of adults. My Father, Grandfather and uncles took them by the pound. Somewhere there is a picture of me on a family vacation, holding up a plastic bag full of shot rolls of slide film. There are easily fifty rolls in that bag. Over the years and a few cameras later, I too took some slide photos, but never like they did. I still preferred the prints. I could flip through them as I pleased and it was never too fast or too slow. If they were out of focus, you tossed them.

The other day, I went down to our local landfill. I hate going there, not because I dislike the duty or the smell, but because right next to the entrance, there’s a little hut. That hut is where you can leave stuff that still works but that you don’t want. I’m a packrat by nature and places like that call to me like a siren’s song. Despite my best efforts, I looked as I passed by. My eyes popped and I hustled to the different bins, metal, plastic, lawn clippings, in an effort to ditch my load and claim my prize before it was nabbed by some other, speedier packrat.

Quickly trying it out to make sure it was not broken, I happily toted my brand-old, slightly dented, but other wise perfectly good, projector screen back to my now empty trunk. With childlike glee, I snuck in into the basement in an effort to avoid the “What did you bring back now?” that would likely get lobbed my way from my very understanding, but not infinitely patient wife. I can’t say that my dump-return track record gives me much room to argue the point.

So… Now all I need is a functional projector and once again we can turn out the lights, sit down and argue that the pictures are going by too fast, slow, out of focus, backwards, where they were taken and by whom. The meager number of slides that I have will make this a slightly less lengthy experience than the family slide shows of yore. I’m betting that my Father’s collection alone is in the several thousands.

Still… there are more than enough to make an few evenings out of it. The real question is whether I’ll be able to resist getting my old 35mm back out and picking up some fresh slide film.

So, who’s making the popcorn?

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