Scanning Around With Gene: Faded Holiday Memories

Even though I’m feeling a little Bah Humbug this year, I’m still a sucker for holiday schmaltz. Most of my holiday memories are good ones, and I love all the trimmings that come and go with the decades, so I enjoy looking at Christmas through the lenses of other people in other times.

Today’s old snapshots are examples of Christmas celebrations from the 1950s through the 1970s, I’m guessing. They all come from eBay, where a number of people sell them to collectors. Click on any image for a larger version.

Most of these folks look happy, and I like to think that the images represent good times. But as we all know, the holidays tend to put a spotlight on family dynamics, both good and bad. Behind each photo is an interesting story, I’m sure.

Nowadays the photos are digital, which in theory makes them more permanent, though I think of them as more fleeting. Once a photo is viewed onscreen, it tends to be relegated to a file folder on a hard drive somewhere and is unlikely to be seen again. We do still make prints, but very selectively.

Gone is the feeling of discovery that came from there being a physical location for pictures. You’d come across them when looking for something else, or cleaning, moving, or just exploring.

And my favorite part of traditional photography was that you would get all of the pictures back in print form — good and bad. Sometimes the bad photos turned out to be the most interesting ones. With digital images it’s almost too easy to delete the mishap photos and only hang on to the best.

I’m not completely opposed to the changes that come with digital images. With sites like Facebook and Flickr, images are seen by many more people than when there was only one print to view. That’s great for relatives and friends. But we don’t know if those sites will be around in 40 or 50 years for us to look back on.

These snapshots seem to capture a moment in time much more than today’s photos do. Back then photos had real physical value — it was unusual to throw away a photo, even a bad one. And the technology of the day was evident in the physical aspects of the photo.

Another change is that we’re now taking a lot more pictures. In the era of these photos, the camera was often brought out only for special occasions, and for some people the cost of each image was meaningful.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for modern technology and its accompanying quality improvement of snapshots. Progress is undeniable. But some of the pictures here gave me chills when I saw them, not just because of the emotions they represent, but because of the flaws in the technology of the times, which make the people in them seem more vulnerable somehow.

Someday our two-dimensional still photos may be just as dated as the hairstyles and fashion choices in these old images. However, they will physically look the same as they did the day they were taken.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think a memory should be slightly faded, scratched and discolored.

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Posted on: December 16, 2011

Gene Gable

Gene Gable has spent a lifetime in publishing, editing and the graphic arts and is currently a technology consultant and writer. He has spoken at events around the world and has written extensively on graphic design, intellectual-property rights, and publishing production in books and for magazines such as Print, U&lc, ID, Macworld, Graphic Exchange, AGI, and The Seybold Report. Gene's interest in graphic design history and letterpress printing resulted in his popular columns "Heavy Metal Madness" and "Scanning Around with Gene" here on

6 Comments on Scanning Around With Gene: Faded Holiday Memories

  1. Love this post! Great walking down memory lane… looking for some old snap shots of my family from past Christmas’s. Merry Christmas to you!

  2. Thank you for the photos and the memories. Merry Christmas!

  3. Hi, Gene,

    Nice post about the faded memories, but being a bit geekish I find the images more accessible now that they are scanned. I will go and get them much more quickly to illustrate a point. My sons and I went back and scanned all the family image archives, with only my personal slides remaining to do plus some few thousand inherited images … maybe.

    I understand your point, but I’ve also seen people take drawers of pictures and, without even looking, dump them in the trash.

    As to digital, I don’t want to waste the time culling (I didn’t do that with slides, either) so I generally save whole sessions from the memory card.

    Lagging way behind this effort is tagging all the images in Lightroom. Someday.

    I am amazed at how good the images looked when scanned, often from the original NEGATIVE. Here is one of my favourites, from a little Bakelite Brownie camera and 127 roll film (from the negative).

    A discussion of the family scanning project is here

  4. Old pictures can tell a lot of stories. I love reading and imagine the stories behind those pictures.replica orologi lusso

  5. With Christmas music in the background and my children 28 and 29 now living in NYC and me “in the country” alone for the holidays I had a wonderful 5 minutes studying these photos which, in an eerie sense,
    bring me back to the day of silver Christmas trees and real trees that were far from perfect. I have a ton of these type of photos from the 60’s stashed and will now make a small book of them after scanning, etc. Thank you so much for all those memories.

  6. Traditional photography will never be replaced in my heart by any other modern technological advance of it.

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