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  • William Hunton

Old Negatives

In other of my posts I’ve told about going through old photographs and negatives, organizing them, and looking for a few gems among the tens of thousands. That is no exaggeration, and I may be understating the number. However, I’m optimistic that I can save my family from getting frustrated by it all when I pass on, getting irritated at me, and just tossing them in a landfill for the archeologists to find.

Gosh! How many do I have? What I have in boxes, binders, and cardboard mounts is a life in photographs: Discovery. Wow! I don’t remember that event. Laughter. Edit. Trash. No, wait! No… It’s trash. Hold it. Sit. Remember.

I have found so many boxes of photographs and negatives, I wonder if I have any real memories at all, or just facsimiles. Some things I recall vividly. Strange, like my daughter’s hair in braids. Why do I remember that? Others, I struggle to remember anything.

I’ll tell you this as plainly as I can: The treasure you seek is not behind the lens but in front of it. Invest there before you spend on a camera.


In one of the boxes of photographs I came across a 11×14 original black and white (sepia toned) photograph of my wife’s mom. I never got to meet her. She died when my wife was just a little girl. Everyone I have talked to remembers her as beautiful, kind, and gentle. I met my wife’s grandparents on her mom’s side. I can understand the source of her gentleness.

So as a Christmas gift I decided to colorize the photo and give it to my children and my wife’s niece and nephew. (As an aside, I used Photoshop’s Neural Filters to colorize the black and white.) The photo is an early gift.

Said all that to say… The photograph was taken in 1939 or 1940. I know this from clues in the photograph and from my wife’s telling of her family history.

It is interesting to me how we are all connected by history to the invisible context in which all photographs are captured. Like here. My wife’s mom was crowned a beauty pageant winner just a couple years before this photograph. She was a lovely woman. Here she is, having recently married, and just before her first pregnancy. He died as an infant. My own father was near to his first marriage. I would have my half-brother as a result. My mom was a teenager when this photograph was made. She did not know my dad then. She was another beauty pageant winner. In Europe, Germany and Hitler were taking country after country in their collective megalomaniacal lust for a Third Reich. Thousands had already died, millions more would. The United States was still neutral. Pearl Harbor had not yet occurred. Different photographs were taken.

All of it occurred beyond the borders of this photograph, in a land of three dimensional color which even then, emphatically contradicted the two dimensional sepia tones. It is a happy artifact of life that the unknown photographer perhaps inadvertently included within the darker historical context surrounding it. Photographs can be hopeful. But I hold it in my hands. It’s a thing, but an abstraction. I view it on my monitor. I think too much.

You know, I am not certain whether the color adds or detracts from it. My kids and my wife’s family love both photos. That’s really all that matters now. Hold onto your family.


#colorphotography #family #Nikon #Photography

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