Or are you a stranger, without even a name?
Forever enshrined, behind some glass pane?
In an old photograph, torn and tattered and stained,
And fading to yellow, in a brown leather frame?
-Eric Bogle, No Man’s Land
Perhaps because so little has survived, the few photos and original documents that I have of my great uncle Jack are treasured possessions for my family. They help to make real the legend that I grew up with. They are, literally, all that is left of the man. And for this reason, it’s critically important that I keep them safe.
When Dad was given the photos from his grandfather they lived in a shallow foolscap box. But by the time I saw them in the early 1990s the box was falling apart. Given my developing interest in the photos and the story they represented, something more practical needed to be found to allow them to be easily accessed. They spent the next few years in plastic sleeves in a green display folder, along with all the other material we’d gathered.
A few years later Dad found an old leather briefcase in an antique shop somewhere, and thought it would make an appropriate home for Jack’s memorabilia. He arranged the photos around Jack’ logbook in the briefcase, which sat open in a display cabinet at my parents’ place in Goulburn until he gave them to me earlier this year.
An antique cabinet at home serves as my ‘Pool Room’. I was keen to display Jack’s memorabilia there, along with other meaningful objects like the forage cap and my Lancaster model. (Not entirely coincidentally, the original oil painting of B for Baker hangs on the wall above). But some of the photos are fading and curling a little. Wanting to display them but not wanting to run the risk of further degradation, I needed another solution.
The first thing I did was get copies of the photos. I scanned them many years ago for a CD-ROM (remember those??) I put together in 2003 so I already had digital copies, but imaging technology has improved immeasurably in the decade since then so I recently had digital prints made at my local friendly photo retailer. The new copies I arranged in the briefcase that Dad had given me, along with Jack’s original logbook and service medals:
So I now have copies on display in my cabinet. Digital copies are available for study as part of my research if I need to, or for posting on this blog. But the originals have an atmosphere to them that the copies can never replicate. In part it is those imperfections collected over seven decades – the fading, the creases and the pin holes in some – that give the originals their character. Phil Smith’s handwriting on the back of one or two adds to their authenticity.
But while those imperfections add to the character of the originals and help make them ‘real’, there’s not much point if the photo degrades to such an extent that the original can no longer be viewed. To prevent further deterioration I have now mounted the original prints – seventeen of them in all – in a loose-leaf archival quality album, using photo corners. The album is now stored in a closet in my house where the temperature will, hopefully, remain reasonably constant. That way the photos are still easily available for closer examination if I want to get them out, but they are also stored as best I can in conditions that will not accelerate the aging process and the deterioration that comes from it.
They should last another couple of generations at least.
(c) 2014 Adam Purcell