Allow me to introduce you to the photographer behind this project, my grandfather. His birth certificate says William. Everyone knew him as Bill. Except me and the other grand kids, to whom he was known simply as grandad. He served in World War 2, getting through it without a scratch to speak of, although there was an unfortunate incident when he was caught milking a cow. Such antics were frowned upon in those days, what with rationing and all.
I remember him as being ridiculously well presented. Shoes that shine like mirrors. He’d be dressed in formal gear to do the gardening. And everything was in its place. Including all his photos and slides, carefully labelled and sorted. He later worked for British Airways and its earlier incarnations, for some 30 years I believe. He loved travelling, so the free tickets he got via BA were a boon. Alas, he married a woman who wasn’t as keen on flying as him. He made up for this with his love of technology and photography.
I also remember the holidays in Kent in that caravan you see down below. We’d pitch up in a field and then head off to explore towns and castles or just spend a relaxing day on the farm. I made friends with the farm boy one year and went hunting rabbits with nets and ferrets. I brought some back to the caravan, and we dined on rabbit stew. He’d tell us war stories. He always had a new war story to regale us with. Alas, he passed in 1994, just over 20 years ago,
Also featured is my grandmother. Irene, or simply Nan. Not the extrovert than my grandad was, but the sort that keeps order and discipline. She didn’t technically serve in WW2. I say technically, because the reality was that every man and woman served in WW2 in one capacity or another. All hands on deck sort of a thing. Must keep the Hun at bay.
Unlike grandad, she didn’t escape the war unscathed. Exiting a cinema when the air raid sirens went off, she was caught in a blast. She passed a few years ago with shrapnel from that blast still embedded in her back. It was shrapnel from a British anti-aircraft shell that went wrong. We’d call it friendly fire today. Back then I guess they call it unfortunate. On the plus side, as badly injured as she was, she made it through to tell the tale. As a direct result, I’m also here today, to retell the tale.
She was a careful sort of person. When grandad was gone, his secret stash of receipts for cameras, lenses and other assorted boys toys that he’d secretly acquired were discovered. He lived for the moment. She planned for the future. A bit like me and Mrs P really.
There’s the photo of him with his organ. He used to spend what seemed like weeks and months building them. It probably was weeks and months. Then he’d upgrade and build a new one. I saw him putting his organs together far more often than I saw him playing them. There’s also a photo of him with a gas fire. I found a number of them, with both taking it in turns to pose with the gas fire.
I am assuming that it was a new feature for the house. Something we take for granted, which was a luxury ‘back in the day’. I suspect that the arrival of the fire coincided with the arrival of piped gas in their neighbourhood. Fortunately, the arrival of indoor toilets wasn’t given the same photographic treatment.
There’s also a group photo there. It’s in Prague. He made friends with a Czech pilot during the heady days of the Cold War, and they kept in touch till the end. My family remain in touch with them, on and off. I think it’s now on a Christmas card basis. The pilot passed away just recently. Months ago, not years. The photo of the little boy? Not me. My younger brother, Richard. You’ve no idea how delighted I was as a child when I found out that a short version of Richard is Dick.
Can you imagine what my grandfather would have made of it if you’d told him back in the 50s, 60s or 70s that I would one day photograph his slides with a smartphone camera and share them with the entire planet on the internet, organised in virtual folders on the internet, available to view 24 hours a day, 365 days a year? Smartphone? Internet? He’d not have a clue what I was talking about.
But he’d most definitely want to know all about it and to have a go. He’d have had a whale of a time. My nan, most likely, would be grateful they lived in a pre-internet era. Mrs P would probably share that sentiment. I’m supposed to be cooking dinner at the moment…
I also wonder what will happen to my photos. It’s great that they’re on the internet and so readily available. But, 20 years after I’ve passed, and half a century after my earliest snaps, what will have become of them? There will be no boxes of slides for someone to look through and puzzle over how, exactly, they transfer them onto a modern format for viewing.
But perhaps they will still exist. Maybe Flickr will create accounts that you purchase ‘in perpetuity’. Meh. I’m not holding my breath. But I would definitely love to know how we look at photos in half a century from now. How they are created, stored and viewed. Perhaps technology will allow us to walk into photos, reproduced as holographic representations created from the 2D images I’m taking today. How cool would that be?
For now, Flickr will have to do. Click here to see the entire set in all its glory. Hopefully I’ll get to have a look through more boxes of slides in the future and see what else is hiding away, and bring it into the 21st century. Maybe I will even make an updated version of my slide duplicator. A deluxe model, sort of thing.