Through the Film Magnifier: A new way to see vintage suburbia in old pictures
To our readers,
Today, we introduce a feature we hope you'll pause regularly to enjoy as much as we'll enjoy creating it.
We're calling it "Through the Film Magnifier" and it's a glimpse back at vintage suburbia through the archive of negatives we built over the second half of the 20th century -- the golden age of film photography for newspapers.
Actually, we had quite a debate about what to call it. The original working title was "Through the Loupe," but although that name has a bit more poetry behind it, we decided it might be confusing unless you had a background in photography or jewelry. (A loupe is a magnifying device that allows a photographer to get a close-up look at an individual frame on a strip of film or a jeweler to get close to the flaws in a diamond.)
The viewfinder in a loupe or film magnifier is round. That's why the images we're recalling in this feature are surrounded by a circle.
Jeff Knox, an award-winning photographer and the head of our visual journalism staff, suggested the feature, and his enthusiasm for the project is infectious.
"I saw a few photos from a Facebook friend that looked at photos through a loupe," he said, "and I liked the look of it."
At about the same time, Jeff had been going through a handful of the thousands of film negatives our photographers have captured over the years. These are photos taken the old-fashioned way, on film. We have the negatives stored in 1,525 boxes, and Jeff had been going through the boxes trying to figure out how to better organize them.
Jeff's a well-organized guy and a great manager and newsroom leader. But he's a photographer and a romantic at heart, and as he was going through the negatives, the images kept stopping him. "We should show them off and let everyone enjoy them," he said to himself.
"My thought was to give the reader a look at what we used to see when we looked through the loupe at an individual piece of film," Jeff said. "Some of the negatives from an assignment have a section clipped out of the sprocket holes to indicate that's the frame the photographer liked. Others are marked on the edge or bottom with a marker.
"We have several volumes of log books dating back decades," Jeff said. "Meticulous records of each assignment were kept by (long-ago photo lab tech) Lil Joerger. Each line of the book has the subject of the assignment, a single letter denoting the town, the photographer and the assignment number."
Jeff spent a couple of hours going through one or two of the books and jotting down assignments that caught his eye. Some were famous people or politicians visiting the suburbs, and some were just everyday events that show life in years gone by.
That's what we'll be sharing with you in the days ahead. Sometimes famous personalities and scenes; sometimes, just a sense of a past era. Today, we're presenting a number of these images by way of introduction. But beginning tomorrow, we'll be anchoring the 60 Seconds box on Page 3 with one of them, as sort of a daily treat. The feature will run Sundays through Fridays.
By the way, if you think we were wrong to keep "loupe" out of the title, email or write and give me your argument for changing our minds.
"I realized," Jeff told me, "that these photo logs are rich with our suburban history and really do show that we've been chronicling for decades."
We hope you enjoy it. I know I will. And thanks, as always, for reading.