Editor's Note: The Long Lost Age of Mechanical Reproduction | February 2022 | Editor's Note | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Editor's Note: The Long Lost Age of Mechanical Reproduction | February 2022 

click to enlarge Taking a bow after a well documented haircut. - MAHONEY FAMILY PHOTO ARCHIVES
  • Mahoney family photo archives
  • Taking a bow after a well documented haircut.

Lee Anne and I got the `rona for Christmas. We picked it up at Christmas Eve dinner with my family. (It’s unclear who did us dirty, but never forget: Family is toxic.) Everyone got it except for my brother’s ex, Lacy, who was double-masked and wearing a face shield the entire time. Lacy sure looked silly in her fancy dress and medical gear—the belle of the infectious-disease-ward ball—but I guess there might be something to wearing masks after all.

Lee Anne and I tested positive a few days later after other family members fell ill. Given our vaccinations and boosters, we were mostly fine—Lee had a flu-type thing for a few days, I was mostly asymptomatic. Just some downtime to Netflix and quarantine. After a few days on the couch and season three of Cobra Kai finished, I decided to straighten up the basement. As I rooted around in the detritus of 20 years spent in one house and not taking a single word of advice from Marie Kondo, I came across three canisters of undeveloped film.

As I couldn’t recall the last time we even owned a camera, I hadn’t the foggiest notion of what they might be. Which made me very excited. (You’ll see why.) As my personal history recedes into murkier mental territory day by day, these photos might return memories I had wholly forgotten. Despite its inaccessibility and general slipperiness, some portion of the past might be restored through mechanical reproduction.

Perhaps the photos were from one of the European trips we took in the late `90s. We would walk around Paris and London and Barcelona shooting rolls and rolls of film and then get home and forget about them, discovering them in the back of a drawer months later. This once yielded quite surprising results, and brought me closer to my dad in a way I didn’t expect.

My father was a man who loved a bargain. He had acquired a discount book with multiple coupons for cheap film development out of a lab in Seattle. For a couple of years, he sent off all my film and picked up the tab for it. (He loved his children even more than a bargain.) After one of our trips, I gave him a handful of rolls of film to develop. When I saw him a few weeks later, he had a delighted grin on his face as he handed me the envelopes of prints.

“There are some beautiful photos in there. The scenery is really impressive. Dazzling shapes and contours,” he said, pointing to the top envelope.

“Oh, so you’ve seen the photos,” I said.

“I was curious about your trip,” my father said, suppressing a grin. “Italy is supposed to be very beautiful this time of year.”

Inside the envelope I found 20 shots of the rolling vineyards and walled villages of Tuscany, bathed in that distinctive orange light I’ve only encountered there. These were followed by a half-dozen photos of Lee Anne��"nude self-portraits��"taken in the mirror, unbeknownst to me and planned as a special treat for me. And now, for my father as well. An intimacy I had not expected to share with dear old dad. I handled my own film development after that.

When I came upstairs and told Lee Anne about the film I found in the basement, she shot me a wry smile and asked, “Nudes perhaps?” Like I mentioned earlier, I was really intrigued to find out what was on the film.

Turns out you can still get film developed locally (at least in Kingston), and when our quarantine ended, I did just that. Despite my excitement to see the prints, I waited until Lee Anne got home. I wondered if we recognize all the people and places in the photos, as the film had to be at least 20 years old. I remembered visiting my Great-Aunt Kathleen in Bantry Bay, the Irish port town where my grandfather grew up. The last of 12 siblings and in her early eighties at the time, Kathleen showed me a box of yellowing family photos—old-timey people in hats leaning against railings, stuff like that. She took the photos out, one by one. If the photo wasn’t captioned and Kathleen didn’t recognize anyone, she tossed it in the wastebasket. “Everyone else is dead, so if I don’t know them, then no one will,” Kathleen said, with such a defiant tone of staring mortality right in the eye it gave me goosebumps.

The first roll was of a trip Lee Anne made home to Florida for Christmas in 1995 and contained some lovely shots of her parents, both of whom passed away more than a decade ago. The second roll was a series of close-up portraits from a party at our apartment in New Paltz, where we lived during the snowy winter of 1996. Aside from a frightening shot of our roommate James doing his best impersonation of a dead-eyed Charles Manson stare, the photos are unexceptional and smudgy. A note from the lab on the envelope reads “Color has aged/shifted.”

The third roll was shot entirely in Lee Anne’s apartment on the Upper West Side in the winter of 1995. Of the 27 prints, 20 are photos of one of our friends, Marl, giving another one of our friends a haircut. One of the most documented haircuts of the decade, methinks. Aside from being astonished, as always, by the impossible youth of my friends and I, the photos are forgettable. Mark is not Vidal Sassoon; Sarah is not Kate Moss. Whoever took the photos is no Annie Leibovitz. (And sadly, no nudes—though there is a shot of Sarah flashing her boobs.)

Strangely, what stood out to me were the things in the apartment, the objects I had forgotten. Twenty-five years later, I remember the people quite well, but the things we surrounded ourselves with are all in landfills. The ready-to-break Ikea furniture. The Civil War cavalry sword. The Aerobie. The homemade gravity bong. The print of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. The 25-inch TV with faux wood finish. The CD/dual cassette deck stereo. The cases of CDs and cassettes. The portable phone with extendable antenna. The print of the groundhog flipping the bird. The lawn chair. The electric typewriter. All buried somewhere, like the stuff in my basement is destined for. There just won’t be any photos of it.

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