Forgotten slides

A new project to preserve — and share — my grandfather’s slides

Hawaii.  1969. Slide #12.

Hawaii. 1969. Slide #12.

We stopped by my grandmother’s house the week before she moved into a new apartment. She had lived in this little brick house in Aiken, South Carolina for over 60 years, but it was too big for her and at 92, she was moving into a smaller space. It was time to downsize.

When we were about to leave, she asked me if I wanted my grandfather's slides. No one wanted them and they were going to be thrown out. I could tell the thought of these slides getting trashed was upsetting her so I walked back to the study to check them out.

My grandfather’s study was pretty much the way I always remembered it. He had passed away in 2001 and my grandmother hadn’t really changed anything in the room over the last 15 years. Wood paneling all around and a built-in cabinet on the wall. In that cabinet were roughly three dozen slide carousels. The outside of each had a volume number and description. 

Idaho Falls.  1975. Slide #51.

Idaho Falls. 1975. Slide #51.

The first carousel I looked at contained images from a trip to Idaho Falls and Yellowstone in 1975. Our family took a trip to Idaho Falls and Yellowstone a few years ago and many of their images mirrored ones we had taken. I never knew my grandparents had been to Idaho Falls or Yellowstone. I was intrigued.

The second carousel I checked out had my mom’s name on the outside. My mom passed away in 2001, too — only a few months after my grandfather. I pulled out slide after slide with images of mother that I had never seen.

These slides contained my grandparents’ life together. Their daughters. Their grandchildren. Their friends and family. Their travels.

I couldn’t let them get thrown away.

I grabbed half the slide carousels — all the ones with my mom’s name on it and some of the more interesting destinations — Las Vegas, Hawaii, Miami. I told my grandmother that I couldn’t take all of them, but I picked the ones I wanted. She was thrilled that at least some of the slides would be saved.

I didn’t really have a place to store them and I wasn’t sure what to do with them. 

Honolulu.  1969. Slide #71.

Honolulu. 1969. Slide #71.

I got home that night and started looking through the carousels. So many images of my mom that I had never seen. Images of aunts, uncles and cousins. My baptism. Birthday parties. Early pictures of my grandparents and hats! My grandmother apparently loved to wear hats.*

My grandparents loved to travel and my grandfather had worked in nuclear health physics, travelling to conferences all over the United States. The images of Las Vegas and Miami in the 1970s were amazing. Images from hotels and pools. Beaches and landmarks. Most were meticulously labeled with dates and locations. I was stunned.

I called my grandmother and told her I’d take the other half.

I still had no idea what to do with them.

Miami.  1973. Slide #15.

Miami. 1973. Slide #15.

So what do you do with thousands of slides? Scanning a large number of slides isn’t a quick or easy process. One afternoon, I was talking to my dad about the slides and he mentioned he had picked up a slide scanner to try and convert some of his images, too. I borrowed his scanner and started to import some selected slides.

I wanted to share the images that I had uncovered. My grandfather organized the slides in carousels so they would be easy to share with friends and family. Today, we share our travel photos with friends and family through social media. And so I decided the proper way to share these forgotten travel slides would be the same way we would share them today: Instagram.

I’ve made a couple of decisions about how I’m going to share them:

Once a week. I’ve got thousands of images, but to start with, I’m going to post an image every Sunday to Instagram. I’ll do that for the first year and then reevaluate.

I’m mixing it up. I’m not going show the slides in order. One week I’ll feature an image from Hawaii in 1969. The next week, it will be from Yellowstone in 1975. I think it will be more interesting this way since I’m only publishing weekly.

I want to capture the environment. After taking an architectural history class last spring, I became more interested in the environments and the structures in the slides. So that’s my primary focus. I may slip in a family picture from time to time, though.

I’m only showing my grandfather’s slides. I discovered something interesting when examining the slides — some of them weren’t taken by my grandfather. Some were taken by other people on the trip and given to him. Others were taken by professionals, duplicated and sold to tourists. It’s an interesting topic and I’m going to write something about it later… but I’m not going to include the images in the Forgotten Slides project. 

I’m okay with dust. I’m not going to try clean up the slides. And I’m not going to Photoshop or color correct, other than a slight levels adjustment to bring out some of the detail. I’m going to present them “as is.”

I’m using Instagram. I actually spent more time thinking about this than any of the other decisions. I considered using Facebook, Tumblr, Flickr or Medium. I thought about starting an all new site. I tried to figure out how to work them into Sketchbook B. But at the end of the day, these scanned slides look like they belong on Instagram. I don’t even have to add filters or effects.

I'm cropping to square. The images with this blog post are full frame, but the ones on Instagram will be cropped. My original plan was to use the full image everywhere, but once I got into the project, I decided a square image worked better.

Miami.  1973. Slide #11.

Miami. 1973. Slide #11.

I’ve got a couple of goals for my new project:

  1. Get my grandfather’s images in front of friends and family.
  2. Encourage people to talk to their grandparents and parents about how to preserve slides and images that are tucked in closets and cabinets and forgotten.

I've named this new side project Forgotten Slides. Every Sunday afternoon, I’ll post an image from my grandfather’s collection to the Forgotten Slides Instagram account. I’ve started a page here on Sketchbook B as a landing page for people interested in the project and added a Forgotten Slides section to the New! page showing the five most recent images.

I've started the Instagram account with first five images and I'll start uploading a new one every Sunday starting next week. I hope you enjoy these slides as much as I have.

* And I learned later that the hats all had names. But that's a story for another day.

Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he digs through old slides looking for interesting signs. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.