At first it was the light and the way the stained glass colors clung to the wooden banister of the staircase that drew me to this photograph of a Santa Fe church. The more I looked, though, the only thing I saw was the door. The more I looked at the door, I realized the irony of point of view. What you see depends solely on where you are.
The last of the family’s 10,000 slides was scanned about a month ago. I start dealing with the prints and digital pictures next (my father was a professional photographer). Until I screw up the courage to put his work out as vintage images, I wander through my parents’ past, making up little stories.
She stands ankle deep in the ocean, still in her Sunday clothes, waiting. She does not see the way he sees. She sees the heat curling up from the beach and relishes the cool water. She sees the crowd on the boardwalk and appreciates the emptiness of the pillars. She sees him and waits. Devotion is not competitive. Photography is, especially to make a living at it. She is a practical woman.
They have come from church, likely on their way to lunch on the boardwalk, when he sees something. She’s used to his visions, almost. She fell in love with an artist of sorts, an observer. Investigation, like the correct shutter speed, comes with the job.
He holds the camera close and captures one moment after the next. Click, click, click. With one hand, he pulls a handkerchief from his back pocket to wipe the sea spray from the lens, then from his forehead. Click, click, click.
She holds her shoes in two fingers tucked into the crook of an elbow and waits, knowing she is competing with his camera and losing.
She sees the incoming tide and takes two steps back. Even in bare feet there is her dignity to consider. She also considers mentioning the tide to him, but she waits. It’s now a competition she can win.
Eventually the camera rests at his waist, taut at the ends of its leather neckband. He looks down. She has moved back another two steps, arms crossed, lips tighter than a new bathing suit. But she waits at surf’s edge. He’s balanced on an old telephone pole tamped into the shore as a breakwater to protect the new steel pier he’s just captured on film.
He doesn’t see her. He sees his new camera on his belly, his dress shoes, and the surf. He calculates, counts the space between waves, their relative height as they come up the beach to his perch, counts again, and hazards the turn toward shore to assess the consequences.
She is waiting. She smiles, raising an eyebrow in supplication. “What would you have me do?” says that curved brow. He smiles, counting the time until the surf retreats, tilts his head in response. “She is beautiful,” he thinks. “She will kill me if I ruin these shoes. No, she will make me wear them. That’s what she’ll do. She’ll make me wear ruined shoes.”
The sea becomes a skim around them. He holds out his arm toward her. She waits.
She calculates. He saved for months for that camera. The shoes, they are expendable, replaceable. She moves closer. They wait for the waves to retreat. She reaches her empty hand to his, and wishes for someone to capture this moment.
Just got the call that the last of the family slides are ready for me to pick up from the photo processor after being scanned. I have had roughly 10,000 slides scanned in the last six months. The photo processing shop loves me. You have to understand, my father was a professional photographer. I have custody of almost 60 years’ worth of slides ranging from weddings (Who has their wedding photos done as slides? It was a thing back in the 1970’s I guess.) to commissioned multi-projector programs (also a thing before PowerPoint) to the horrific holiday family photos from the late 1950’s and ‘60’s. In between there were the vacation slides.
Why did I have the slides scanned? Because Pop could make the view from the campground look amazing. Fortunately for us, our vacation photos rarely included us. I have landscapes from trips to Alaska, Hawaii, the Canadian Rockies, the Outer Banks, assorted amusement parks, scout and church programs, and weekend fishing excursions.
Not all of the pictures are great. My favorites are the rejects, and there were trays labelled just that. These unfit-for-presentation photos show Pop’s interest in tinkering with light, motion, and texture. It shows a tiny bit of his process. He used a manual technique of bracketing shots to ensure the best exposure. I have what seems like dozens of the same shot, but they aren’t, if you look closely.
And that’s the main reason I had so many slides scanned. Each of these photos shows me part of Pop: his love for Mom, fishing, and making photographs. As for the first, if Mom was along for the ride, Pop took her picture. She was a striking woman before we all came along…and for a long time after until dementia took the spark from her eyes. She could read anywhere, dressed simply but fashionably, and was up for whatever we tossed her way: cooking over a campfire, ice fishing, roller coasters. Thank God Pop captured it all because I wasn’t paying attention.
The other reason I had the slides scanned is to share Pop’s vision. My hope is that at least a few photos are worthy of stock use. As vintage images, un-retouched or altered other than by scanning, I want to put some of his photographs out for others to use. I’ll find out shortly if it’s a delusion or not. I’m submitting now to see if they will be accepted. If so, I’ll let you know.