Today’s post comes to us from Port Huron Steve
In the summer of 1974 my parents invited my erstwife and me to a dinner. They explained that my dad had made a serious amount of money recently, much more than they needed. There could be no happier use of that money, they said, than to send us to London “all expenses paid.” We wouldn’t need to spend a dime of our own money for two weeks of touring London.
Of course we were thrilled. We were grad students eking out a living with on-campus jobs at the University of Minnesota. This gift would let us live like rich people for two weeks. Even better, we realized there was enough money enough to allow us to travel around the United Kingdom. Instead of staying in a posh London hotel, as my parents had anticipated, we could sleep in B&Bs in the countryside. The money saved would cover a cheap rental auto. We could travel wherever our whims directed.
Our two-week vacation in September featured a week of exploring London and a week of bumbling about the country. We visited Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Devon and Dorset. We nipped into Wales briefly, which was funny. The Welsh were astonished that tourists would intentionally enter their country. They had no infrastructure to accommodate us, and we didn’t stay long.
We took hundreds of photos. Photography was trickier then than now. We shot slide film, a touchy and unforgiving medium. Our Fujichrome slides weren’t as pretty as Kodachrome, and they had gobs of grain. The British weather did us no favors, raining every day. The fugitive sun made a brief appearance three times. When not raining the skies remained overcast and harshly bright. Our slides were drab, with unpleasant tonality.
You can’t view slides without a slide projector, screen and dark room. Several years ago I hired a company to scan our slides, converting them to digital files. When I got the scans I was dismayed. The scanning process was crude. All the scans were underexposed and grainy, with ugly colors and tones.
A few weeks ago I came across those scans where they’d been hiding in a remote file on my computer. I opened a scan in my photo editing software. It was easy to brighten the image. I made some areas of the image darker, lightening others. I tweaked some colors. I tamed the harsh sky. My editing software has ways of reducing grain. Soon I had a new version of the slide that was pretty, or at least prettier than it had been. Some scans were too compromised to salvage, but that left nearly 200 scans that begged for a beauty makeover. With a big grin I began editing the 1974 trip images.
That kicked off three of the happiest weeks I’ve known. Because my computer is attached to good speakers I could stream an internet folk music broadcast while I worked.
Photo editing is tricky. I kept returning to images I had edited earlier, tweaking them, and often making my edits more subtle. Of course, no amount of editing can make fuzzy images sharp. Many things can go wrong in photography. I was puzzled by an icky color cast in pictures of suits of armor. I finally figured out that the armor was in a room lit with fluorescent lights, giving the metal a green cast. Aha! That could be fixed. In the end I produced 189 pleasing images.
The project was emotionally complicated. I was having so much fun I tuned out the horror show of our national politics. It was a joy to revisit moments from that extraordinary trip 44 years ago. Each image presented unique challenges, old memories and surprising rewards. Christmas—actually, a splendid Christmas—came and went. I was almost too absorbed with editing to pay it much attention. I was too busy making ugly things prettier. What is more rewarding than that?
Do you have ways to add beauty to your life?