“. . . a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; a stone, a leaf, a door." -- Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel
These lines were probably what inspired my old habit of picking up little souvenir stones from the homes of famous authors I visited, including the childhood home of Thomas Wolfe in Asheville. My little collection of touchstones gradually blended with other pebbles, shells and stones from various trips, and in a kind of entropy of fading memory I eventually lost track of what was what.
This photo is a different sort of touchstone. It's a picture of one of the weirdest cars I ever owned -- a 1977 Dodge Aspen Special Edition with glass T-tops and no air conditioner, so in the summer it got so hot inside you pretty much had to drive it with the tops in the trunk and with a regular glance at the sky for changing weather. The car was strange, but I've always associated it with fond memories, because it was the car we drove on a memorable trip to the Southeast in the summer of 1984. I had bought the car used on an uncharacteristic impulse, and its garishness always embarrassed T, and I can't say I blame her. It looked like a performance car but wasn't. Under the hood was the reliable old Dodge slant-six I had good experiences with earlier in more sedate versions. I suppose that's what I liked about it. Also, until I quickly got sick of it, the two-tone orange-red and white paint job briefly appealed to me. A sudden wild streak.
This was nearly 30 years ago, and that's a long time for a Kodacolor print. It faded the same way that time and memory fade. Sure, it triggered memories, but it was a shabby, fading relic. Recently I decided to digitize the negative and see what resulted. I was blown away. It was as if I had stepped into a time machine. The colors were vibrant and real and saturated. Whites were white. Greens were green. Reds were red. It looked as if it had been photographed yesterday. I realized I was looking at a better version of the photo than the actual drugstore print I had made so many years ago.
Processing note: Since the negs were stored as casually as my old prints, they had also faded and changed color. But I had recently learned a simple, cool trick for handling the orange mask of color negatives in Photoshop. Simply invert the negative image in Photoshop, and use the Levels eyedropper to set the area of the mask between frames to white. Whites in the image will pop, and you'll be close enough to the color balance you want to be able to get there with just a bit of tweaking. And usually it will look better than your original average machine print from the negative.
What I like about this method of processing old digitized color negatives is that any color shift that affects the image has also affected the mask, so this method automatically compensates for it. Like magic.