WARNING: This piece is not about wireless or technology per se. It’s a bit of reflection on life stuff shared with anyone who feels like reading. Apologies for the detour from tech, and I promise to get back to it with the next one.
Before I dig in with the heavy stuff, let me give some background. I was born in the late 60’s, graduated high school in the mid-80s, and did a decade in the Air Force. My wife and I have been married since our young 20s, and had three kids. Two are on the final leg of their PhD studies, and one is finishing undergraduate this May. Got all that?
Now think for a second about cameras, and how they’ve evolved.
The Badman Family Film Era
After almost a year of Air Force “tech school” for Electronic Warfare, I found my 19-year-old self at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. I had a paycheck, an interest in photography, and access to really nice camera equipment at a fraction of what it would cost in the US. I picked up a Canon AE1 Program and some nice lenses, years and years before digital cameras were a thing. Oh yeah- I forget to mention that it was dirt cheap buy film and get it developed in the Philippines, which was good because I took soooooo many pictures in my many outings (I had a bicycle and a motorcycle and rode the hell out of both of them if I wasn’t catching the Death Bus up some windy mountain road). I also traveled for Uncle Sam to Korea and Okinawa while stationed at Clark. Eventually I moved on to Alaska for three years- and luckily had an Air Force co-worker who had a second gig developing film. I got a killer discount, and so shot thousands of images in the Great White North, too.
It turns out that you end up with a boatload of negatives when you shoot with film. But hold that thought…
My wife and I actually went to high school together, but got married five years after, in Alaska. We left the state the day after our wedding, in January, at -60 below driving home to see family in New York and then on to Mississippi where my next duty station was. We rolled my Bronco in the Yukon, and then the next 29 years were pretty much a blur. And I photographed it all, in great detail. Our pre-kid years on the Gulf Coast, our sons and dogs and adventures, including our last Air Force stop in New Mexico. Fast-forward a bit to civilian life in Upstate NY, add our third child (daughter), and the fact that either my wife or I worked the shutter on that AEI Program at countless events and outings until somewhere around when the kids were in elementary and middle school. That’s about when digital photography got affordable, and we put the beloved Canon away…
I’m guessing we had a fairly typical 20 some odd years with three kids. Highs and lows and wonderful times and many parties and holidays and coaching kids sports and camping and watching them grow and one thing after another and another. Just when you think life can’t ever change, it does. The oldest goes off to college. Then number two leaves. Then the youngest. You can’t believe their gone, but are thankful they are all doing OK.
Then one day, you find that bin full of old negatives.
Digitizing Our History
Ladies and gents, this is an emotional roller-coaster. I have spent a number of hours over the last several weeks digging deep into my personal history. Many of these negatives were degrading to the point where they probably wouldn’t have lasted very much longer, so I’m glad I snatched their images for storage on my NAS before they were lost to time. I’ve seen myself at every age since 19, my beautiful wife and I together as a young, happy and fairly naive couple getting started in a new place far from home. Every one of our children’s solo journey and each as part of our clan has shown itself to me in this endeavor. (Thankfully smiles and laughter outweigh any other emotion for all of them by an order of magnitude in everything I’ve seen).
It’s almost euphoric to watch this play out, balanced by the the involuntary sadness that comes knowing that they are also years that are behind us. For whatever reason, at least half of everything I’m scanning isn’t in any of our photo albums.
I’ve made a lot of strangers very happy by posting images to various Facebook groups (I Survived Clark AB, etc) so they can remember their own histories in these far-away, sometimes no-longer-there places. This is life, and in many cases, death- as a fair amount of people in the images are no longer with us.
Well Worth Doing
This is a time-consuming exercise, for sure. But, oh my suffering God, it’s also incredible. There is no “going back”, yet I feel like I’ve been able to cheat that universal truth a bit through these negatives. I’ll end up with terabytes of images, and I’ll figure out some way to copy them and get them to each of the kids. I’m sure many of the images will mean little to them, and that’s OK. They’ll have their childhood recorded for playback, minimally. Even if they only feel a tiny bit of what I’m feeling in going through all of these, the effort will have been worth it to me.
I’m really not that old, despite how all of this might sound. My generation saw a lot of technological transitions, which is pretty cool. If any of you youngsters made it to the end of this piece, I’ll spare you the lecture on how empowering and non-laborious digital photography is compared to film. But while I chip away at these negatives, I’m absolutely loving the old tech.