Monday, April 14, 2014

Vintage photos 'unframed and 'albumed'!

I will quickly run through a century with some background about 'junk' in our house. My great grandfather built a house in 1911 at Lakshmipuram [a locality] and died in 1936.  My grandfather moved to another house, not far from it, at Devaparthiva Road [Chamarajapuram] in 1950 after renting his father's house.  So, all the things that had accumulated since 1911 or before followed and went up to the spacious attic or store room at Chamarajapuram, where I grew up. This post is only about the vintage pictures in frames, esp. dead ancestors and group photos, as photos of gods and political leaders are not relevant here, so also the myriad objects. 

Walls of houses being adorned with several old glass-framed pictures of gods, ancestors etc. was a common sight in the decades gone by.  Our house at Chamarajapuram was also like this. Most of them were from my great grandfather's time.  In this rare 1956 family function picture [indoor pictures were rare], two are seen at the top edge and one or two in the back - inside that room.

[Click on pictures to 'biggify' them]

I can remember from my earliest childhood, one particular photo in our veranda, hung above the door frame of my grandfather's office room.  I did not know for many years that it was an aircraft or the people in it were elite and royal!  I used to look at it often.  I learn now that this was part of the historic maiden trip of our Mysore Maharaja, Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar in 1936. [Click]  This was on his first ever flight and taken at Croydon airport.  I still wonder how pictures of such occasions came here and in framed condition for display. 

In 1970 when the house was whitewashed, my father removed and dumped many in the store room and the reason was also their losing relevance over decades. Came the early 80s and I found myself taking up the responsibility of cleaning the store room once in a while.  My father had died in 1981. You know, there were about 60-70 framed pictures of different sizes, some of their glasses were cracked and some frames themselves rickety.  It occupied a helluva lot of shelf space and box space!   The smaller ones were kept in an old rickety wooden box, the perfect haven for cockroaches!   I wanted to get rid of as many pictures and frames as I could.  There seemed to be no purpose in keeping them there for nothing.

In school I did not like 'History', but ironically, I liked vintage stuff.  In one of those cleaning chores, I happened to look at the photos closely and carefully, which I had not done before.  This completely altered the course of my plan to rid many of them and resulted in a new option: 'Proper Preservation'!  My great grandfather or our Mysore King or my grandfather or some dead relative or gods or saints or political heroes were in many. I saw a lot of valuable history in them!  What to do?

Idea!  "Albumize"!

Converting them into an album was the best option, but it would involve a lot of patient work and there was risk of damaging some pictures and mounts.   I set about this project and did not look back. Imagine our house at one time having about 80-90 photos on walls of rooms, hall and verandah, everywhere.

The first job now was to separate them from the frames.  It was a lot of work in itself, removing nails behind them. Some glasses came in handy as replacements for a few broken window panes.

I had about 40-50 photos to preserve after they were removed from the glass frames.  Many in them esp. groups are not identifiable, even the occasions. Old pictures reveal things like costumes, furniture, head gear, etc.,

This project sprang up in January 1986 and I was to even apply for leave from work for some days.  Separating the photos from their cardboard mounts, which were brittle with age was the trickiest part and preserving the details printed on the mounts was another.
Just an example here:

Since all are vintage 'bromide prints', they last long.

All the photos were now ready and sorted.  It took me 6 months.

I bought black album sheets and cardboard for the cover. I became a 'book-binder' [used paste from boiled flour].  The widest photo became the width of the album when I cut the sheets to size.

I used cloth and cotton thread for the binding portions.  I was  happy about the binding job.

The printed mounts were carefully thinned to preserve the details. 

Some could not be separated.  So I made photocopies and pasted them. 

There were many with none and with the change of generations, there was none to identify them!

 The album project ended well.  Imagine such a huge volume of photo frames now reduced to one album, about 16"x12".  I was able to get some personalities in esp. group pictures identified by my old relatives and I made it a point to show the album to them which they also admired, enjoyed.and 'nostalgiated'. Some like the above continue to remain a mystery.

Browse through my online 'Photobucket'album "Vintage Pictures" [Click on 'vintage pictures']. There are 73 pictures in it. 80% of them were removed from their mountings and photo frames. Keep an eye on the years wherever you see them.

Certain wooden frames had become rickety and I just put them into the fire. All the good ones which were only few were restored and now they are still around me.  I will show one or two.

This is the best frame in which I put in my art work. 

See the  frame close-up.  Simply beautiful.

This large frame is about 30 inches high, of our most beloved and revered Mysore King. It was always there in our hall and I continue to find a place for this beautiful picture.  He has done so much for Mysore.

My great grandparents. They were in two separate large frames.  I adjusted both in one, thus saving one. I live in the house built by him in 1911.

My best find in that wooden box is this very small picture:  

I had hung it to some nail in the dark passage outside the store room.  When it was being dusted one day, I looked at it closely, taking it to good light, to see what it was.  It had a "signature" of Swami Vivekananda, the great Saint who had made that historic speech in Chicago and won hearts at the World Conference of Religions in 1893.  See photo-maker's name! 

 I was absolutely thrilled.  It deserved a better frame than the one it was in, all its life.  There were a few still waiting to be reused.  One good frame just suited the dimensions of this.  I made a cut-cardboard mount and framed it.  This is what you saw.  It still adorns our hall. Some good frames also now hold a few of my paintings.

This 'unframing and albuming' project remains one of my most satisfying endeavours, though at the back of my mind I feel having damaged the original mountings, but I do not regret now, because this cannot be undone.  Now I have to protect the album from silverfish.

The wooden box [left] now serves as the garden tool box. 



  1. Oh, Dinu! Reading this made me suddenly realize two things: I need to make hard copies of some of my favorite photos, from all those photo computer files and glue them into an album, and I need to label them appropriately. Thanks for the reminder of the importance of this. Not everyone is crazy about photos the way we are, but someone in the distant future will be like us, in re to any photos we preserve and label. So we owe it to them to do this. Great post! Inspiring post in your 'blob.' Susan

  2. Great job Dinu ! You are indefatigable !

  3. I went in search of a large, old book at a second hand store some time ago, found one with no problem, and I cut some of the pages out of that old book . . . . and glued pics into it. (I sliced out some pages so as to accommodate the thickness of the pics I added, you see.) I had a ton of pics from the old memory wall project just sitting around collecting dust, and they are now in that big book. Prints are not expensive, and I have hard copies for easy access by family members. I haven’t printed copies in some years. I mention, in my comments about your blog entry, that I needed to be reminded to do this again, to make some hard copies.


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