Sunday, December 26, 2010

Kodak Invents Time Travel

Earlier in 2010, my wife's grandmother passed away. She was likely the closest example of a 'pioneer woman' I'll ever meet: a bloody hard worker, found her joy in simple things, and had that suffer-no-fools attitude that I seem to run across in folks who hail from north of the French River.

Until shortly before died, she had spent the better part of her life in a thoroughly uncharming 100 year-old house on a side street in Parry Sound, Ontario. A solidly built structure, it was decorated in whatever struck the homeowner's fancy at any given time - a mish-mash of shag carpets and linoleum spanning several decades, all under the abundant, watchful photographic gaze of former pets and family. Repairs and renovations over the years were solidly executed, but favoured function over form without hesitation.

And so it was that we found ourselves in Vera's home sorting out the post-funeral details of her life. There were decades worth of showboxes and photo albums to investigate, catalogue, and pass along to other generations. In an ancient hutch we came across two rolls of unprocessed camera film - the cartridge styles suggesting something from the late 1960's and early 1970's. The geek inside me was just a little bit elated since it would inevitably fall to me to see about extracting any images of the past from these rolls.

This is where the story begins, I suppose. Over the next few weeks I would spend a few hours researching how I might get these old films developed and printed, assuming they were even salvagable. And I would come to the inevitable conclusion that no - and I mean almost no one - deals in still film processing anymore, with the possible exception of 35mm format.

Then I found a someone - an organization that goes by the name of Film Rescue International - who claim to specialize in processing of old films from still, disc, and movie cameras. They operate totally by mail order and Internet, and their process is simple. You send them your old films, which they process and put the proofs on a website for you to inspect. You then have the option of selecting which prints you'd like developed and/or copied to digital media and sent to you.

It seemed exactly what I wanted, although I was very, very leery at the prospect of putting Vera's films into an envelope and crossing my fingers. Without alternatives, however, that's just what I did - and it was the right decision. The folks at FRI are awesome, and everything is working as designed.

This past week, I got an email pointing to the FRI website where we can inspect our photo images. As I expected, time had been a bit cruel to the old film cartridges. Out of the 33 images that were lifted, only 15 or so are half-ways legible, amd even those are low-quality. But we've gone ahead and ordered our prints and CDs, anyways, and the folks at FRI will try to apply a little Photoshop magic along the way.

It's funny to me that the pictures look about right in how they show a small, Northern Ontario town of 35 years ago. Things should look like grainy black-and-white - everything so simple, so unremarkable. No one being pestered by the Internet, the cellphone, and the sticky produce of the paparazzi. There's a lot to like about these modern times, of course, and I'm sure those grainy black-and-white people wondered their fair share about the future. But looking at that old photograph above, a little part of me wouldn't mind playing a bit dirt-lot baseball now and again.

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