A 70-year Shutter Click

time is just an eye blink

Westy Reflector


My IRL family, Maplewood, NJ, 1981 [me: 2nd from bottom left; paternal grandparents Ida & Morris: top row left; self-timer composition, Kodak stock, format unknown]

Down in Florida last year, I began to organize my parents’ 6 big bins of photographs, the earliest of which reached back into the 1890s. Aside from being an invaluable record of my family history, the trove also provides, upstream, a fractal of the entire era of mass manual photography. No vintage filters necessary, just IRL sepia-tinged frozen time.

Film was a limited resource then, and care was taken, even by the most casual photographer, to frame and compose even the most throwaway shots (mostly). There was also tremendous lag time — sometimes years lol — between the shooting and developing of a roll of film.

With no easy way to share photos in the Kodachrome era, save for giving away, or developing extra copies to hand off or mail, most of the photos I leafed through hadn’t been looked at in a while. I felt the archeological thrill (and import) of re-discovery, for sure.

My parents’ archive (mercifully, in a way), stops right around the mid-2000s, when pretty much all day-to-day photography went digital. Unlike today’s weightless piles of e-photos, the sheer tonnage of the bins is correlative with the amount of time they cover. A hundred years of photos yields around 100 pounds of photos in this case. Fwiw, I did get bonus workouts moving the archive from a spare bedroom to the garage and back to alternate organizing the collection with making room for guests.

In the last bin I opened, I found an envelope packed with 100+-year old shots of my great and great-great grand families.

My Great-Great Grandmother, Rifke // Location Unknown // ca. 1915
my great-grandmother, Bubby (far left), with her arms on my great-great grandmother, Rifke // Budapest, Hungary // ca. 1895
my Great-Grandmother Bubby, just ahead of her American emigration // Jasło, Poland // ca. 1905
my Great-Grandfather Samuel, just ahead of his emigration to America with Bubby // Jasło, Poland // ca. 1905