Friday, August 16, 2013

Family Photographs and Home Movies

My father had two jobs when I was young. One was the day job that he went to every day, Monday through Friday. His other job was as a freelance photographer. There was a darkroom in the basement, where one did not intrude if the red light was on. My mother helped him in the days before color film; she was the one who handpainted the color on portraits. There were pictures of all our dance recitals, important occasions such as weddings, graduations, confirmations, holidays, etc. My cousins remember him taking pictures of all their events as well.

He was always experimenting with new cameras and equipment. All his children became accustomed to sudden appearances of bright lights along with the commands, "Chin up! Tilt your head this way. Put the other foot out. Hold it! Just one more!"

As a young child, I used to wonder why my older brother and sisters disappeared so quickly whenever the cameras appeared. When I look through the many photo albums, there hits a stage when the two youngest are the only ones in the pictures. My younger sister and I liked being photographed. That is, until we hit our teens and suddenly realized just why our older siblings developed the knack of vanishing. Fortunately by then there were grandchildren to take over being the focus of the camera's attention.

As an early innovator, Dad was the first in his family to make home movies. I hadn't realized how rare this was back in 1950 until I started contacting my cousins to see if they had any home movies of our grandparents. My sister and brother-in-law converted all our family's home movies to videotape back in the 1980s, but I recently decided that perhaps now was the time to convert either the videotapes or the original films to DVD. And, being one of the family members in charge of the family tree, I thought I'd check with my cousins to see if perhaps they had some home movies of the grandparents as well. The answer: no.

This of course means these home movies are of interest to people outside of my immediate family. Both my grandmothers died before I was born. My older siblings knew them, as did my cousins. I find it fascinating to see my grandparents as well as younger versions of my parents, aunts and uncles. Seeing my older siblings as little kids is fun, too. (It's not quite blackmail material when it's in a home movie, but watching my serious oldest sister playing dress-up with her friends or seeing how my next oldest sister used to tag along the way my youngest sister did with me was... interesting).

The first decision was whether to convert the videotape or go back to the original film. VHS always looks grainy to me (yes, I'm a Beta tape snob) and the original process of converting the home movies to videotape added another level of blurriness. I decided to use Walgreens for the conversion and sent in a VHS tape and a Beta tape of the home movies to experiment. Once the tapes were digitally transferred, iMemories at Walgreens allows you to log in and create your own DVDs. I was able to pull out excerpts of holidays with the grandparents and aunts and uncles that would be of interest to the cousins as well as creating straightforward copies of the 1950-52 and 1961 movies for my siblings. I also created accounts so that my cousins could view the excerpts online.

But the images seemed blurred to me, and I found that the company (YesVideo) which handles the conversion of home movies for Walgreens (and Costco and other stores) only does straight transfer to digital with videotapes. For the actual films, though, they will clean and color correct the images. So, I went to visit my youngest sister to see how the original films looked. My memories of watching them as a child were suspect, since I didn't get my glasses until sixth grade. (*Everything* was out of focus until then.)

The original films look great, so they are now being converted to digital. Copies will go out to my siblings so everyone will again have a set, and my surviving aunts and the cousins will get DVDs with excerpts of the appearances of the grandparents and aunts and uncles (mostly during special occasions and holidays).

What are others doing to preserve family photos and movies?


  1. This is a great idea. My old photos are in albums and I really need to do something to preserve them. Thanks for the reminder to get busy.

  2. Thanks for sharing..
    It is a great idea.


  3. Thank you so much for the wonderful book! I finished it few days ago and can't get it out of my head. Hope magic
    in movie. ...
    the movie fifty shades