American Family Archives | Preserving 35mm Slides

Part 7:

Preserving 35mm Slides – 
Importance(!!!), Organization & Archival Storage





Why I Gotta Do This:

A Journey into Ancestry, Genealogy, Family History, Antique Photographs, Disorganization, Dysfunction, Chaos, and One Man’s Search for Archival Salvation





35mm slides, like the old 8mm home movies discussed in the previous blog (Part 6 – click here to view), are a pain in the as…er…posterior to have to deal with these days. Sure, they had their cultural moment in time, but the era of the “slide show” was swept away by the same digital tsunami that drowned out the 8mm home movie. In our age of instant digital imaging the whole idea of darkening a room, setting up a clunky / junky projection screen and a carousel slide projector and showing slides is JUST. PLAIN. OVER.



35mm slides, family photographs, slide trays
Old 1970s/1980s-era carousel slide trays from my archive. While the concept underlying this design was absolute genius in terms of ease of use, compact design, and circular “endless loop” capabilities, the era of the slide projector is OVER.
The greatest things about finding these carousels in my Attic of Doom?
1.) the slides housed in these trays were still organized
2.) the slides were protected from dust and moisture for more than three decades
3.) they were relatively easy to locate
4.) they contain a GOLD MINE of irreplaceable family and professional images that do not exist in any other format = must be archivally preserved



Bye. See ya. Don’t forget to write.


Now, having said that, here’s the REAL story: Many of my old slides are virtually PRICELESS! Yup, never show ’em, absolutely need ’em.

Perhaps you’re scratching your head just now: “Hey Lance, what does THAT look like?” Well, the answer is multifaceted.





35mm Slides:

Personal Family History
Irreplaceable Professional Records –

Two Case Studies




35mm slides, family photographs
Slides from my mother’s side of the family. Many of the people, events and moments documented in these little gems do not exist in the form of regular snapshots, which makes these slides very important to my overall family archiving project. The box on the right is labeled “Jane’s Tea” (more on that below), which helps identify just what the heck was going on in those slides. It also points, once again, to the importance of keeping the original boxes and envelopes that these old photographs came in, as many of them contain this type of valuable information. When the time comes I will transfer this information to the archival enclosures and acid-free boxes/binders that will eventually house these precious 35mm artifacts.



Case Study #1: In rummaging through my family archive I have come across slides that contain images of people and places that simply do not exist anymore. In many cases these are the ONLY images of these individuals and events that exist, as the only film shot on that particular day was slide film. As an example, the yellow box of slides on the right in the photograph above is labeled “Jane’s Tea.” Back in the 1940s & 1950s American women would occasionally hold “teas”—tea parties usually set up by the women-folk to mingle and kibitz. Not to be confused with the everyday 4:00pm British teatime or the current political movement, a “tea” was a social affair in an era when many women did not work outside the home and thus sought other opportunities to get together and socialize. My mom (Jane) held one of these gatherings at my grandmother’s house back when she was in her early twenties, and other than these slides no photographs of this event exist. So, from a family history point of view, these slides are quite important and completely irreplaceable. They not only record what my mom and grandmother looked like and how the event itself appeared, they also record a social custom and rite-of-passage that has largely disappeared from American popular culture. See, I told you this family archiving project was going to be an archeological expedition!



family photographs, genealogy
More 35mm slides from my mother’s side of the family. From left to right:
1.) formal portrait of my grandparents family
2.) my grandfather (see enlargement below)
3.) grandma / grandpa / Uncle Michael (who took his own life, see Blog #4) / unknown woman. Note the full-length mink / fur coats in this slide, which were the real thing back then for society types like my grandmother (see the enlargement below). 



family photographs, 35mm slides
Nice jacket, dude.

My grandfather on my mother’s side. He was a successful banker, so I guess he could get away with this sort of sport coat. Yikes!!! I wonder what grandma thought about all THAT! I’m sure she actually didn’t care, as long as the minks kept comin’ her way.



family photographs, 35mm slides
An example of how easy it is to make good digital copies of old slides. At noon on the day I wrote this blog this image only existed as an ancient fossilized color slide (see far right slide in the pix above). I dropped it off at a local printing establishment and by 5:00 the same day it had been scanned, converted into a digital file, cleaned up, and printed – all for under ten bucks (the woman’s face on the right was blurred on purpose, as I don’t know who she is). Oh, and by the way, no fake furs anywhere in sight in this pix. They wouldn’t have even dreamed of it. ‘Nuff said.



OK, so now that I’m done with society teas, full-length mink coats and goofy red-white-and-blue sport coats from the ’50s, what other important things did I find amongst the many 35mm slides in my family archive?


Case Study #2: Well, as mentioned in Part 3 of this series of blogs (click here to view), I have one of those Master of Fine Art edumacation degree thingys from RISD, which at the time—like most art skools—required prospective MFA candidates to submit a slide portfolio for consideration for admission. So that’s what I did: I made a number of slides of my then-current artwork, mostly contemporary stereoscopes (click here for more information on stereoscopes), and sent them off along with the requisite $250 “application fee” (read: bribe). Why am I mentioning all this? Well, it came to pass that many of those earlier stereoscopes are “no longer extant,” which as mentioned in a previous blog is fancy art history speak for “they got trashed during numerous moves / the cat got to them / they ended up by the curb decades ago, etc.” As it turns out, while digging through my attic archives I found a couple of sets of 35mm slides from that time period, including the original slide portfolio from my RISD application, and these images are the ONLY record of some of my artworks that are otherwise lost forever. This is HUGELY important to my current work, as these images from 30-some-odd years ago are being incorporated into portfolio and biographical materials I am assembling to market my current projects. Without these slides I would have no way of reconstituting previous work, so I am damn glad I kept them!



stereoscope, art portfolio, 35mm slides                 Stereoscope Junk Viewer


Stereoscope Purple 1                 Stereoscope Purple 2


Contemporary stereoscopes, above, that I built in the early 1980s and photographed for inclusion in my graduate art school application slide portfolio. Some the stereoscopes from this period no longer exist, but having the slide is the next best thing. Its now time to gather all these slides together, scan them to use as part of the marketing effort centered on new stereoscopes I am currently making, and then store the original slides in archival pages, binders and boxes.



35mm slides, family photographs
Absolutely irreplaceable 35mm slides from my family archive. From left to right:
1. My old man and his beloved boat
2. My dad in Bermuda on his honeymoon
3. Me as a moderately long-haired 1970s teen, c.1978 (my old man HATED long hair, so I was in a buzz cut until I finally rebelled at age 13, c.1970)
4. My older sister as a baby, on my dad’s lap, c.1956 (see Blog 6 for the PERFECT gift I am planning for her 60th birthday)



The same goes for slides from my family archive: there is no way to reconstitute the people and events captured in those slides, so I am damn glad I kept them, too! Now its time to insure their long term survival in high quality archival enclosures.





35mm Slides:

Archival Storage Options for Organization
and Easy Access & Retrieval


There are a number of different options available for organizing and archivally storing my vast collection of family and portfolio slides. For the more important and the most important slides in my family and professional archives I want to have very easy access—a mechanism that will allow me to quickly and easily find the slides I need—all the while offering the maximum level of archival protection and longevity.


For these important slides I am using clear archival slide pages, as these will allow me to place up to 20 images per page, all of which can be reviewed at a glance, and store them when not in use in a variety of 3-ring archival binders and acid-free boxes.



32mm slides, archival pages
Clear archival 3-ring slide pages allow for quick and easy reference WITHOUT having to touch the slides. (Please click on image for more information.)



35mm slides, archival binder, clear slide pages                     archival binder, slipcase

(Please click on each image for more information.)


Clear slide pages fit perfectly into archival binders, which can then be placed in coordinated slipcases for a truly elegant appearance while also providing an additional level of protection against dust, dirt and moisture. 



35mm slides, family photographs, binder in a box
An acid-free binder box is another excellent and utilitarian way of archivally storing clear slide pages. (Please click on image for more information.)



binder-in-a-box, archival storage, 35mm slides
Another view of the versatile binder box in use for storing slides, prints, and CDs/DVDs. Note the different colors available to match one’s tastes and decor.
(Please click on image for more information.)



hanging file, 35mm slides,
Archival slide pages can also be organized and hung in file drawers for quick reference and retrieval. (Please click on image for more information.)




35mm Slides:

Bulk Storage Options


I used to teach Art History (Art Mystery?) at the high school and college level. I mention this as almost all of the dozen or so carousel slide trays I had stored in my attic were full of art history slides, as well as other images I had assembled over the years for use in various guest lectures and such (see the pix at the top of this blog). We’re talkin’ hundreds and hundreds of slides here, folks. For these images I need organization and archival protection on a bit more massive scale. Fortunately, a number of options exists:



35mm slides, bulk storage, archival storage
With this kit I can sort and archivally store 200 slides, organized in separate slide trays, in each of the long boxes shown. Six of these individual slide boxes then fit into the larger acid-free master box for compact and practical storage of up to 1200 slides.
(Please click on image for more information.)



35mm slides, archival storage
This option allows me to archivally store up to 2400 well-organized slides. Boom! Like that!
(Please click on image for more information.)




35mm Slides:

A Last Word


These days it is very easy to scan 35mm slides and convert them into digital files for archiving and printing. As mentioned, I have hundreds and hundreds of slides, but I can tell you right now that I am never going to scan them all. Instead, I am going to go through them, organize and file many of the less important slides in bulk archival storage boxes, and select the very best and most important slides for scanning so that I can print them and back them up on high quality DVDs (click here for more information). A reference print will accompany the actual 35mm slides that will then go into archival pages and binders, while the digital files will be printed, added as “hard copies” to the rest of my family’s ongoing archive, and sent out to various family members for their own family archives.


With all this I am ensuring the survival of my original photographic “artifacts” (i.e. the slides) while permanently retiring the need for slide projectors and such. The best images will be printed and shared, and in so doing these people and events—most long dead and forgotten—will live again for generations to come.


Its a good thing, methinks.





Well, with 8mm films and 35mm slides out of the way, its now time to consider the single largest component of my (and probably your) family archive—snapshots.


Fortunately, while perhaps seeming like a truly daunting task from the outset, the whole process of sorting / identifying / archivally displaying and storing all my zillions of family snapshots can be broken down into manageable, do-able mini-projects. If the “wonder of discovery” is anything like that expereinced while working through my family’s slides, this promises to be QUITE the adventure.


So, with that, its on to:


Part 8: Snapshots – Photo Albums



(BTW – got a question thus far? Got a particularly challenging archival / preservation / presentation / organizational / storage nut that just won’t crack? Don’t know what’s what re: your personal archive or collection? Post a comment or contact us. We’ll get ya through it!)



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