My father’s photo archive, part one of many.

I have finally started on the project of archiving and (selectively) scanning my father’s photographs.  He was an avid photographer, if by “avid” you mean “relentless.”  In a pre-digital age, when developing photos was costly and time-consuming, he would take massive numbers of similar photos.  I can’t remotely imagine what his archive would look like had he lived to own a digital camera.

His photos span his own teenage years in the late 40s and 50s to the years just preceding his passing in 1997.  From skinny ties


to sideburns


to grandfatherhood


His equipment spanned the Minox to the Poloroid, but he really hit his stride in the disposable camera era.  I’m not sure he used a non-disposable camera after about 1990.

The organizing challenge is also more intense for more recent photos, that is, those taken after One Hour Photo began offering two-for-one prints.  Dad often got three- or even four-for-one, resulting in giant stacks of photos for each roll, or more frustrating, duplicate rolls scattered throughout the collection.

I should have taken a picture of the starting point:  three large (3’ x 3’ x 3’) boxes of unsorted photos — most stored in all of the variations on envelopes that developers used from the 40s to the 90s, but many loose photos and negatives as well.  I have now gone through all of the photos that remained in envelopes and more or less figured out their year or at least decade.  This process brought home the need for some sort of consistent way to organize them — and a search for what turns out to be a rare thing:  a no-frills way to store large numbers of photos.

Working hypothesis:  Damn you, scrapbookers!

A search for “photo envelopes” yielded sites willing to sell me heavy-duty envelopes just thick enough to mail one presumably very important photograph, but no envelopes sufficient to hold a roll of 36 (or 72 or 108) photos.  I moused around for a couple of days, and then hit our local Mike’s Camera to see if perhaps they sold in bulk the sort of envelopes you used to get your developed photos back in.*  They didn’t but the guy behind the counter recalled he’d purchased them in bulk back in the day when his store actually developed photos.  He had the name, no!, not the name, but he did have the 800 number.  And bless the internet, a search on the 800 number took me to the Mackay Mitchell Photopak company, which sells “print boxes,” 100 for $25.10, in two sizes.

Print box 1Print box 2

So, I figured, I had just been using the wrong term.  Clearly all I’d have to do would be to search on “print box” instead of “photo envelope” and I’d have a wide range of choices.  Not!  Here are typical results for “print box”:

Print box 3

print box 4

print box 5

And here’s where I blame scrapbookers:  it is apparently no longer acceptable to store photos in cheap, plain, buy-in-bulk envelopes or thin cardboard boxes.  They have to be archived — no, make that “curated”** — in something cute, expensive, and space-consuming.

I placed my bulk order with Mackay Mitchell.

This post took a sort of unexpected Andy Rooney turn, so I’ll wait til the next to start posting some of my Dad’s more remarkable photos.


* Yes, I did that grammar on purpose.  Grotesque but sorta cool, no?

** It will not surprise you to learn that I’m planning a post on the overuse of the word “curate,” which has escaped its home in the museum and wandered off to cover any set of two or more things that someone has chosen to put side by side for any reason in any medium.  For example, “I curated my eggs and toast this morning.”  See!  How awesome is that?!

2 thoughts on “My father’s photo archive, part one of many.

  1. Jenny

    1. As a big fan of both Peter Robertson and Amy Robertson, I’m struck by photography as a passion pursued–quite differently–by both father and daughter.
    2. Have you, a bona fide possible member of a Russian spy family, seen that new tv series about a Russian spy family? If so, you owe your loyal readers a review.



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