NANCY KAUFFMAN Holder chose a 1906 portrait of great-grandfather Mordecai Kessel and the children of his late wives. Jennifer Becker sent her parents' slides, one featuring a garish parade float of a mermaid. Ilene Gold decided on an image of her children's feet, touching toe to toe.
Asked to share family slides with the Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimoreans offer glimpses of their past by the square inch. Some predictable, others curious, a few startling in their ability to evoke an audible response, provoke a question, trigger a memory of a darkened room, a cone of light, a carousel clicking, a voice repeating, Next slide, please. In this age of digital photography, when an image can be modified, enhanced, erased on the spot, the slide is an anachronism and the projector that showed it, an artifact. That Kodak manufactured its last Ektagraphic slide projector last September confirms the medium's demise, another relic from the baby boom generation.
And yet the slide as an object of interest remains unalterable, first-generation, transparent splendor, a 2-by-2-inch record of art of the ages and our favorite Kodak moments. It served as a teaching tool as long ago as the early 1900s, when Heinrich Wolfflin differentiated art by comparing and contrasting images. Remember Bowdoin Davis' art history class at the Maryland Institute? Who didn't first view Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling in a slide presentation?
With the 1935 invention of Kodachrome, slides captured the vivid brilliance of color unlike any photograph available then. Artists used slides to reproduce their work with astounding clarity in a cheap, compact way. Some actually made art through the medium, the subject of an upcoming BMA exhibit, SlideShow, and the reason for the museum's call for family slides. "Slides were an alternative experimental medium," says Darsie Alexander, the curator of the exhibit. Photographer Nan Goldin's chronicle of life, love and loss, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, evolves from 690 slides shot during the 1980s and a rock-opera score. "Stories can be rewritten, memory can't," Ms. Goldin has said. "If each picture is a story, then the accumulation of these pictures comes closer to the experience of a memory, a story without end."
For many of us, slides presented nothing as elaborate or sophisticated. The family at the ocean, cousin Connie's wedding, a friend's round-the-world trek recollected in stills on a big screen. It was a way back through memory. It was a chance to tell stories.
Ed Medley took his first slides with a second-hand Agfa. He was a 20-year-old prospector in 1969, looking for uranium deposits in Saskatchewan. Besides their singular quality, he was seduced by the fact that slides could be shown to an audience.
"You could tell a story, a narrative to a group of people. Whereas a photograph, unless it was on a wall, you couldn't do that. ... There was a ceremony about receiving slides from the photo developer. You had this box. They made a noise. ... There was something more tangible about holding a slide. You could hold it in all kinds of light. ... There is this whole ceremony of putting my slides in a sorter and making up the story as I went along and putting the slides in the carousel backwards and upside-down. ... It was son et lumiere, a sound and light show, and the sound was the sound of my voice."
Mr. Medley, who owns a digital camera, keeps his 35mm Canon loaded with slide film.
At the BMA, beginning Feb. 26, in a gallery filled with vintage slide projectors, a sequence of digital images from Baltimore slides and snapshots will run nonstop on a wall: tourists in caps, clouds on a beach, garden rhododendrons, lake trout for sale, an airplane wing, bridesmaids in floppy hats, a woman alone in an amphitheater. No clicking carousel or whirring heat lamp or voice repeating, Next slide, please. Just a projection of everyday life in art.
-- Ann LoLordo