It’s been about a year now since I started collecting colour slides and in that time I’ve formed a few systems and ideas for storing and managing my collection which I thought I would share with the world. I guess anyone who has made a hobby of collecting colour slides has probably worked out similar systems for themselves, but this post may be useful for anyone just starting out.
Why did I start collecting colour slides?
So first of all, how did this collecting bug start?
Well, I guess initially it was born from my photographic history and a sense of nostalgia.
In my youth my Dad always had a camera and over the years moved from taking black & white snapshots with a folding camera, to a 35mm camera and developing his own film. Although he only ever developed black & white film, if we went on holiday or out for the day, he would invest in a roll of Kodachrome and use that. After he died, I started scanning all the slides he had taken and remembered the fun we had as a family when the slides returned back from processing and we could view them on a big screen set up in the living room.
While I was re-viewing these little ‘rectangles of history’ it reminded me how good the images captured on colour slide film could be, and I started looking out for boxes of slides on eBay. like the one shown here which cost me about £5.
After a couple of months I realised I’d become hooked and had another collecting passion.
There is one other thing which I think makes collecting film images appealing; there is a physical connection between the image shown and the actual item you hold in your hands. With a digital image it’s just a set of data which has been copied from another set of data to give the same image structure. With film you know that in the vast majority of cases (and for amateur images for all cases), the film was in a camera at the precise location the picture was taken and at the time the picture was taken.
Cataloguing and storing slides.
When I first started collecting colour slides, I basically kept them in the same groupings that they were in when I had acquired them. To me that appeared to be the sensible thing to do since it seemed to represent keeping the slides which had been taken by the same photographer together.
However, after a while, as my interest grew, I started buying slides in bulk, ‘assorted’ groupings. These are sold by dealers who purchase a large numbers of slides from house clearances etc and sort through them, selling individual slides which may be in particularly interesting subject areas like Steam Engines, recognisable towns or cities, famous people etc. The slides which are left over are then bundled into sets of a few hundred and sold quite cheaply. In order to ‘mix it up’ a bit, these bundles are made up of various different slide films and formats (i.e. 35mm and 126) and often come from different photographers. Because of this I started to think about how I could catalogue these slides and how I would store them in a logical fashion.
What I decided was to store them in boxes organised by film emulsion, and then, where possible, sub divided into date groups. For some slides such as Kodachrome, that is easy because the processing date is marked on the majority of the slides, but for others it is simple impossible, so the slides are kept in groups of the same slide mount type.
The boxes I use to hold my slide collection are the ones sold as ‘really useful boxes‘ in stores like Amazon and Staples. The 4 litre size is great for 2 inch square slides and absolutely ideal for medium format which is exactly the same height as the box. Initially I considered using vintage slide boxes of the sort that people used use when colour slides was the most popular format for photography. These contain the racks which fed straight into slide projectors and stack together nicely. They would have been ideal, but when I did some investigation they turned out to be ridiculously expensive. I found people trying to sell empty boxes for as much as I paid for a couple of boxes complete with slides!
I make an exception to this storage rule for any slides which I’ve purchased in sets which were obviously taken by the same photographer or belonged to the same family. These generally come in wooden or card slide boxes, and I keep those together and as much as possible in the same order, especially if they have an index card.
Regarding cataloguing, the site you are looking at this post on is basically my catalog system. Any slide which has an image which I think is good enough, or interesting enough to be worth cataloguing I scan and upload.
The site has a metadata system which records the film emulsion, film type, a set of categories to describe the scene etc. This provides a convenient way for me to locate any particular film emulsion or format etc and also provides a (hopefully) useful similar function for users of the site.
Specialising it particular slides.
Although I said above that I’ve purchased slides in ‘assorted groups’, after a while collecting colour slides, it starts to became obvious that many of the images bought this way are just holiday snapshots and, to be honest, pretty boring. This is a natural result of the way the dealers have removed anything which can be sold individually, so a few months ago I started thinking about specialising, and instead of getting bulk buy slides, try to acquire images which would fit my personal interests.
So, what I have done is limit my purchase to three main areas:
Medium format slides
These tend to have been taken by more serious photographers and therefore are quite often better composed and exposed than many 35mm snapshots. Additionally, the larger film area of the medium format slide means that the quality of the image can be outstanding.
Any slide which is older than 60 or so years will tend to be historically interesting even if it is just portraits or street scenes, so I would normally be interested in them.
Sets by one photographer
Although this category is more hit and miss, quite often sets of slides by one photographer can have some interesting content and tends to have a more complete record of individual locations.
I think the main connecting factor in these classifications is that the photos will be interesting. When I first started found-film.co.uk I tended to publish just about any picture I came across, but over the last few months I’ve become more picky and really only want to publish pictures which I think show something interesting – some social history, an interesting place, something famous or a visually attractive image.
Just as a taster for anyone who is considering starting collecting colour slides, or old photographic images in any format really, these are some if the images I’ve found which I think are the most interesting in my collection.
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