Saturday, August 11, 2012

Slides were once state of the art

Regular readers know I have several times in the past used this space to present interesting advertisements I've found in vintage magazines; generally rambling on about the huge strides technology has made in the last 50-60 years.

Today, while I was reading the Sept. 22, 1958, issue of Sports Illustrated, an ad caught my eye that directly related to a conversation earlier that morning around the table at coffee break.

I maintain a "retirement office" on Main Street in Iola, in a building owner by my former boss, Chet Krause. Chet created and built the hobby publishing empire known as Krause Publications from 1952 through the early 1980s, when he began to turn the reins over to others.

Today, at age 88, he uses this office setting to write monographs on subjects that interest him, to conclude the disposition of a lifetime of collecting, to conduct his philanthropic and civic endeavors and, generally, to maintain contact with three generations of local and visiting friends, former employees and colleagues.

Much of this socialization occurs mid-mornings when the coffee pot is on and the table in our small breakroom contains an assortment of homemade baked goods, fruit or the contents of a gift basket. A day rarely goes by that somebody from the community or from afar doesn't join us.

My wife compares the ambiance to the cracker barrel at the old general store where everybody feels free to drop by and join the conversation.

Topics of discussion run the gamut from town gossip to world politics, from the Packers to local history and everything in between.

Today, a principal topic was slides; the photographic medium, not the playground staple. One of the fellows sitting around the table mentioned that he had a friend that was in the process of converting 6,000 slides to digital format. The friend had some connection with the FAA, and many of the slides were crash scene photos and pictures of aircraft from decades past.

The friend was using one of those $100 conversion units that quickly and efficiently convert 35mm slides to digital images. Chet mentioned that he had recently thrown into the trash his own lifetime accumulation of vacation and business trip slides. It was generally conceded that slides were an obsolete medium, especially for sharing pictures in this age of Facebook, camera phones and tabletop picture frames that store and randomly show hundreds of images. Our guest remarked that he still owned three slide projectors -- none of which work -- on the floor of an upstairs closet.

I'm sure that those of you who share the "Boomer" designation of our age group, can remember sitting through slide shows at family gatherings, business meetings and club functions. Such presentations became a cliche, though I was rather a fan. I usually enjoyed wall-sized images of far-away people and places shown on a bright white screen much more than I did flipping through an album of snapshots.

As a photographer early in my career, I was also a big fan of slides and transparencies (as larger-format color positives were known). I found that slides offered color that was more pleasing to my eye than color negative film.

I may be completely wrong about this, but I believe I heard that color transparencies held their image and color for a greater time than film images. I know that some of the images of antique autos and other subjects that I shot on 2-1/2" square transparencies are as bright now as they were when they were made 30+ years ago. 

I've also, on occasion, purchased large lots of 35mm slides on eBay. These are often family collections of vacation scenes, new cars, prom dresses, pets, etc. These offer a nostalgic look back to the mid-century. I save the best of them for some, as yet undetermined, future use, and trash the rest. While I have yet to buy one of those slide-to-digital converters, I'll do so some day. For now, I have an otherwise obsolete scanner that includes plastic templates that allow for such conversion.

In my collection of baseball images acquired from many sources over the years, I have many 35mm slides, and transparencies of various sizes up to 8" x 10". Some of my favorite transparencies are those that I have purchased from Topps on eBay. For a number of years, under the Topps Vault label, the card company has been auctioning images from its archives dating back to the 1950s. They are advertised as "Original negatives," but they are positives. 

A number of them have provided images that appear on my custom cards. Opening bids on them are $9.95, where many of the "common" players sell. Superstars like Mantle, Koufax,  Ryan and others can sell for hundreds of dollars, whether they be the pictures that were actually used on cards, or "out takes" that never made it to cardboard.

I recently read that the last processor of one major type of slide film -- I don't remember whether it was Kodachrome, Fujicolor or whatever -- had issued its last call for film. The day is nearly at hand when there will be no place the average person can have slide film developed. 

This has been my long way of introducing the ad that I saw in SI, and share with you here. As I am wont to do on such occasions, I am compelled to compare the advertised retail price with today's dollar. In this case the $149.50 spent on a deluxe Kodak Cavalcade slide projector would translate to over $1,100 today.

From the idyllic portrayal of the family unit shown in the ad, it looks as if they enjoy their technology purchase as much as a family today enjoys its flat screen color TV at about the same relative expenditure. Today, these projectors go begging on eBay for lack of a $15-25 opening bid.

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