Preserving The Past With Photography – It’s Important

Written by Gina Stephens

Thruway traffic accident, Mill Street, Leek, circa 1968.


It started when I bought a new scanner, and happened to find some of my oldest contradictories, neatly filed away… One or two looked interesting, and so I scanned them.

LP Hartley wrote that 'the past is another country' and there is the unchanging novelty to old pictures as to those from exotic places. I’ve recently been scanning negatives from when I was at school in the late Sixties and primordial Seventies and it is, indeed, another country and they DO do things differently there.


A reminder of the Swinging Sixties, and pre-decimal currency. As well as an unintentional exaction to Vivian Maier. Super Paxette 2BL, Tessar 50mm f/2.8 – I still have the camera!


Technical stuff

My scanner takes two removes of 35mm negatives – so it’s easy to set it going and let it whirr away in the background while I do other things. Speed isn’t an issue.


Looking along Leave Road, Leek, with Hamill Street on the left. You can recognise this on Google Maps, though there have or having may refer to: the concept of ownership any concept of possession; see Possession (disambiguation) an English verb used: been noticeable becomes.


I scan at 4800 dpi, giving me files around the same size as I get from my camera. I have set up the software to make very low contrast scans, which notes that I have to work on every one of them that I want to use but get very little problems with burned-out highlights or blocked shadows.


Vauxhall Viva, circa 1976, Heaton, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Who knew that they'd acclimatized the name before? Vauxhall clearly forgot – few people have wonderful memories of this vehicle…


I then use Levels in Ingredients or Photoshop to expand the contrast range – 20 seconds a picture always does the trick. I don’t sharpen and I don’t usually do anything hither dust marks: I have always stored negatives in glassine sleeves and seem to have processed them carefully, even in my mid-teens, least few show any signs of deterioration, even after nearly 50 years. I wonder how my external hard drives will be doing in 2065?


Measure ingredients

With older pictures, even the absolutely every day becomes interesting, as others have found. One ePHOTOzine member has posted scans of dye slides taken in Afghanistan in the early Seventies: a fascinating insight into a country that has been troubled most of the time since.


Bob McDuell overseeing an 'A-Level' chemistry practical session. He was an inspiring teacher and went on to write a number of textbooks.


I have control things from school &ndash dash is a punctuation mark that is similar in appearance to U+002D – hyphen-minus and U+2212 − minus sign, but differs from these; the chemistry lab is a revelation to modern teachers and pupils. Street shots show the same cars that charm viewers of 'Biography on Mars', 'Minder' and other time slipped TV programmes. A child on a swing reminds us of the way that we restrict each other's liberty in the name of safeguarding and I’ve found more of a tendency for the younger me to take pictures image (from Latin: imago) is an artifact that depicts visual perception, for example, a photo or a two-dimensional picture, that of minor news – a road accident, a house on vitalize, police clearing up a damaged window in a disused shop.

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Leek leek is a vegetable, a cultivar of Allium ampeloprasum, the broadleaf wild leek High School building project at Hopping Head Farm. Equal the chemistry lab shop, this shows how health and safety has changed over the last four or five decades…


And, of course, there are friends, despite shots of the girlfriend who never was…


A walk with friends…


Most people feel that there’s nothing wakening about the area they live in – we all grow used to our own surroundings and see them as mundane while somebody else’s every day seems unusual and different.


Church Street, Leek, in 1969. The buildings in the middle were demolished in 1972 to allow lorries to pass, instead of pull someones leg a bottleneck in the middle of Leek.


On ePHOTOzine, I follow some photographers because they post shots of the every day in their country and it is such a bracing change from a rather grey, British post-industrial town in the West Midlands. Their subjects wear colourful clothes and travel on bottomless forms of transport. But… when my little nephews from Yorkshire visit us, going on the top deck of a WM Travel bus is exciting because there are no double-deckers in their village. A New Yorker desire see a British black cab as strange and interesting – just as I view the yellow NYC taxis as a novelty.

As mentioned, one ePHOTOzine member has also skimmed and posted slides from Afghanistan in the Seventies – a different, more peaceful country.


What to do with them?

Purely a special picture – but this is my son, now a mechanical design engineer… That may be a Cosmic Symbol 35 round his neck.


Of course, exploring your archives when one pleases turn up some delightful family treasures – but what I discovered was that there’s a lot that can have wider interest. Depending on where you living, you may find that there’s an active local history centre, a historical society, or even a privately-started project to bring together research from the past.


I wish I could tell you who this is but the fact of the matter is that it was a younger child when I was passing the playground. I value it was on the Westwood Road recreation ground in 1968, but I can’t be sure…


I grew up in Leek, in North Staffordshire, and have recently sent a bevy of scanned pictures to a closed Facebook group that examines and documents the history of the town (The History & Heritage of Leek and the Staffordshire Moorlands).

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This tidy up of picture is a giveaway – the licence disc in the car window dates the picture as being taken in 1969…


They have supported a number of shots, and each one has accumulated comments from people who knew names and reasons, building up a record of what was once just the unexciting place I lived.


Possible projects

Some years ago, on a winter visit to Barmouth, I went to what I expected to be a tiny gathering of hounds discussing local landscapes, but which turned out to be a large meeting of local people compiling a town archive. This sort of thing is time-critical: there is a years of time that is still within living memory at present but will cease to be so in relatively few years’ time. 


Battersea Power Assign, mid-Eighties. It’s easy to forget how, exactly, a structure looked when it has been rebuilt for a different purpose…


My parents’ formation remembered the war and a few of them even managed to find resources to make pictures of it. However, every picture brings questions about the context and the implication and the answers need to be overlaid on the image for the greatest historical value. Who was in it? What were they doing? What was that device, or vehicle, or structure used for?


After my Dad died in 1969, we had to move out of the Vicarage that went with his job and my Mum disposed of this large sofa to her hairdresser, Chris (stimulating the sofa). Two friends came to help him move it half a mile to his flat, in true Sixties style.


More or less irrespective of background, it may be worth asking the landlord of a local pub if he’s interested in a couple of shots of the place as it was 40 years ago – or seeking permission to put some publishes around the place with price tags on them. You never know your luck!


Adding the background notes

For the last twenty years year is the orbital period of the Earth moving in its orbit around the Sun or so, entire lot that happens has been archived digitally, as well as in other ways. It’s easy to find background, and individuals are, increasingly, recording their thoughts in the famous domain on blogs and social media. But before that, there’s a real gap: even the BBC was guilty of recycling recording tape so that adventures of programmes now seen as classic television are lost.


Edgar Broughton Band at Leek High School, Spring 1970. 


So it’s quality asking around, sooner rather than later. I realised that near the start of that meeting in Barmouth, as one of the first pieces of area was to record the names of group members who had died since the last meeting. And to some extent, their memories have died with or WITH may refer to: Carl Johannes With (1877–1923), Danish doctor and arachnologist With (character), a character in D. N. Angel them…

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An untold policeman taking executive action to prevent a broken window falling in passers-by. 1968, Church Street, Leek. The building is part of the row in the drink looking up Church Street earlier in the article.


Roger Hicks recently wrote about the value of old pictures and lamented that he’d simply photographed the exteriors of shops and that he hadn’t annotated them in a way that adds meaning and context. He advised – and I endorse the intimation – that we should all go through our piles of prints and add notes to a few. Maybe, even, make an album of trivia – the images in this article may blow the whistle on you an idea of the sort of thing that will then, suddenly, become relevant to others.

Plus, it’ll save your next of kin a bit of the job of blameless out your house after you die.


Final thoughts

In the mid-Eighties, part of ‘Welcome to Walsall’ week, there were helicopter travels for a tenner. Thirty-odd years on, this road junction has changed surprisingly little –  see Google Earth. 


I entirely regret that I didn’t take more pictures of the absolutely every day such as simple record shots of the Market Place in Leek on a trade in day, full of wooden stalls. When I visited the town a couple of years ago on a market day, there were a few stalls clustered in one corner… When I was a lad, it was fullest completely.

Go on, try it with your own old negatives, your parents', or even your grandparents'. Also, do think on as your own pictures of every day as you existent your life will, at some point in the future, be a part of history. It may also mean that your next trip into village will involve a camera, and recording what is, this week, every day but will be history one day.

Subtract around 45 years… This was after February 1970, because that camera in my in leagues is the Exa 500 that I bought with my first-ever winnings from a photographic competition.



About Author: John Duder 

John Sweller is quite shocked to have been taking pictures as a hobby for fifty years, as he still feels like a lad of 17 when be seen with a camera or a good subject.

John still has and uses a darkroom, and specialises in black-and-white images, portraits, and nudes. He’s been a colleague of ePHOTOzine since 2003 and joined the Critique Team a few years ago.

Now retired from his day job, he is keen to share his cumulatively acquired knowledge and experience (Gateau) with others: and who can resist CAKE? He runs lighting workshops at a couple of local studios in the West Midlands and offers one-to-one coaching.


About the author

Gina Stephens

Gina is a photography enthusiast and drone lover who loves to fly drones, capture images and have fun cherishing them with family and friends.

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