Thoughts on Our Photographic Archives- #1

When I moved into the house in which I'm currently living in 1990, the elderly woman who lived in the house across the street had recently died. Her son was in the process of selling her house, and had hired a person who specialized in estate sales to clean out all her possessions that the family didn't want. One day, a big moving truck arrived, and proceeded to empty out the house and put everything on the curb before loading it into the truck. I noticed what I thought were tall 35mm slide file cabinets, which I knew to be extremely expensive and therefore out of my price range, and went across the street to check them out.

They were indeed what I thought they were. Each drawer was meticulously labeled with titles such as "Spain, 1975", and "Hawaii, 1958". Inside each drawer, the slides themselves were labeled and sorted. Clearly, these were the treasured photographic archives of all the trips this family had taken over the course of time. Since there were no gaps among the slides, I concluded that the woman's children and grandchildren hadn't wanted any of these pictures.

Puzzled, I asked the estate agent what he was going to do with the cabinets, knowing them to be something of a special interest item. He replied, "Oh, we'll throw out all the slides and sell the cabinets themselves." I stood there slightly stunned, as it had not really occurred to me before to wonder what happens to photographs when no one wants them. As someone for whom family history is of paramount importance, I saw these slides as someone's treasure and couldn't bear the thought of them just being tossed in the trash.

The agent asked, "Are you interested in the cabinets? Because if you are, make me an offer right now and you can have them."

I stood there gazing at these amazing cabinets, knowing that I could never afford to buy them under normal circumstances, and here they were, available for a song. But buying them would have meant that I would have become responsible for throwing out the slides, and I knew I could never look at or use those cabinets without thinking of the memories they had once held, and feeling somehow responsible for their loss.

I know, I know. It's just "stuff", right? The slides were going to be thrown out, one way or another. But I just couldn't be the one to do it. I said to the agent, "No, no.... thanks anyway.", and made my way back across the street, in mourning for the loss of another family's visual history. It's something that I knew happens every day of the year, but it was hard nonetheless.

I didn't watch the truck as it pulled away.