Make Way For The Shoebox

Make Way For The Shoebox

And the car enthusiasts will recognise the reference…*

But it’s photo enthusiasts we want to address here – enthusiasts and their families. The shoebox they need to think about is the one that’s sitting on the top shelf of the hall closet. The one that contains all the family photos from the last 180+ years. The one that is slowly being eaten by silverfish…

We all have one. I’ve got the Stein family one with pictures of rellies from Europe, North America, and Australia all mixed in there. It’s got various sizes of studio photos, street shots, and wonderful artwork taken by me in the 1960’s…You can tell my stuff because there are fingerprints on the negatives in between the dust particles.

As things stand now, this shoebox full of the family’s history is in danger from a number of things:

  1. Fire.
  2. Flood.
  3. Silverfish and mice.
  4. Mould and mildew.
  5. Relatives.

Of the lot, the last is the most dangerous. Everything else is impersonal misfortune, but relatives can target you specifically. They want to have copies of Grandma Elizabeth’s photos and the quickest way to do this is to borrow them and never bring them back. It’s little consolation when they are gone and everyone denies ever having taken them…

So what do you do? You make adequate arrangements to protect your goods in a fireproof safe – this applies to personal and household documents. You make sure that they are in a waterproof container. You make sure the container has some anti-mildew agent included. You air and sort them regularly. And you bar the rellies at the door with a bayonet.

Well, not exactly…at least not when the wife is watching. The way you satisfy their legitimate desire to have a copy of the pictures is to copy them. At the same time you can make arrangements for copies to be stored in such a way that the fire and flood cannot get them. And there are a number of ways to do this.

  • Painstakingly rephotograph each print, slide, or negative with your digital camera. You’ll need good, even light to do it, a camera lens that will focus at a close distance, and some way of holding the camera at this fixed distance. The dear old copying stand or enlarger stand was great for this and may still be available. You can set up a rephotographing alley using a glass window and a tripod and shoot in daylight hours. You’ll have to find some way of keeping the prints flat as you shoot and you may have a deal of post-processing work to do to crop out any support frame…but it is all do-able.
  • Scan the prints with a flat-bed scanner. This is a good option if you have pictures that are torn, odd sized, or damaged. The scanner will flatten many things between two glass plates and with sophisticated machines like the Epson V700-V900 series, you can scan to insanely detailed resolution if you wish.
  • Scan the prints with a rapid-scan machine. These, too, are made by Epson – amongst other manufacturers – and can operate with printing press or machine-gun speed. Note that these machines and the Epson V-series scanners are a serious investment but that they seriously work.
  • Put the photos in to a commercial scanning service. Traditionally somewhat expensive and time–consuming, this sort of service has now been brought up to date by Camera Electronic. And all sort of things have improved; price, output, and ease of access.

More on the new Shoebox Service in tomorrow’s column.

*For the non-motorist, ’49-’51 Ford sedans were known as ” shoeboxes “. It was a term meant to belittle them – probably thought up by GM – but in the end the Ford enthusiasts adopted it and are very proud of the cars. And yes, I want one.

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