The Lost Photos

Many people who grew up in the pre-digital age will have a stash of old photos stored in shoe boxes or worn cardboard albums, memories fading with time, rarely looked at, but treasured nevertheless. On occasion, I remember mine too-. those chosen photos that made it into albums, occasionally flicked through by the children, who enjoyed re-visiting their childhood travels, or being amused by photos of their dishevelled, long-haired hippy parents. It was their past, our past. The shoe boxes of prints and yellow Kodak envelopes of negatives were in need of sorting and pruning, a rainy day task that I never really got around to doing. In February 2009, the Black Saturday Bush fires, a disastrous fire storm that swept through many rural areas close to Melbourne, destroyed them all, along with everything else I owned. After that event, I came to value my lost photos, even those packets of negatives and discards, and developed a clear visual recall of many old photos and the events surrounding them. The past is no longer a foreign country; I can step in and out of it quite comfortably. This visual memory has been a comfort.

The Lost photos. Girls on the way to Birethani, Nepal, 1979.
The lost photos. Girls on the way to Birethani, Nepal, 1978.

Recently my brother unearthed five photographs from the past, taken in Nepal  in January 1978. He is a great hoarder and collector of old images, and has spent hours digitizing old slide negatives and black and white shots from my parent’s albums. Along the way, he found a few negatives of our children, taken when they were around 6 or 7 years old, providing them with a record of their childhood, a patchwork of images that they can then pass on to their own children one day. Other relatives have unearthed images of our old mud brick house in the bush, and the odd party or Christmas shot occasionally turns up too.

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Andrew, in Tibetan scarf, Arto and Francis Brooks in the Swayambunath house. 1978

I was quite overwhelmed to see these Nepalese photos again. That trip was a magical experience: I recall my daughter’s words as we flew over the rural countryside of Nepal, breaking through the blanketing cloud cover,” It looks like fairyland”, as Tolkienesque villages emerged from the mist, followed by tiny mudbrick cottages clinging to the sides of deeply terraced fields.

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The lost photos. Andrew meets some donkeys in the foothills near Pokhara, Nepal, 1978.

In our time there, the children played simple games with the Nepalese children as we trekked in the mountains beyond Pokhara, children who had so little but seemed happy in their home on the roof of the world. We ate the daily Nepalese staple meal of Dal Bhat, rice served with a lentil soup and a few green vegetables or potatoes on the side, (still one of my favourite meals), frequented tea shops and smoked bidis. We met colourful Tibetan families and wild mystic sadhus, circled the Buddhist stupas of Swayambhunath and Boudhanath and had a wallet stolen by wild monkeys. We wandered through the medieval city of Bhaktapur, now severely damaged by the earthquake of 2015 and attended a Puja, a Nepalese house blessing ceremony in Patan.

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The lost photos. On top of the world, with Machapuchare ( fishtail) in the background. 1978

There were hundreds of photos taken on that trip, back in the pre digital age when photos were expensive to print. Some were enlarged and graced our walls in the old home. I am happy that I now have five. Like a time traveller, I am back in the late 70s, wandering through my past, and am enjoying the trip.

37 thoughts on “The Lost Photos”

  1. I have often thought if I had to save a small number of things the photos would be among them, so I especially feel for you having lost all of them. So glad to see these few that have resurfaced. Enjoy your precious memories like warm hugs from old friends. xx

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  2. Though it was a terrible loss, I can tell you have made peace with it because, there is no other option. I’m glad you’ve been able to gather a few for the kids. Annapurna looks stunning in that last shot. I can see you had good weather.

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  3. Bless your Brother! What a fantastic find! I, too, have boxes of photos taken during my traveling days. I’ve tried to organize them but, each time, I get distracted and spend time on Memory Lane and not sorting things. I cannot imagine how badly you must have felt upon losing all of your precious photos,

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  4. How how lucky is that, what a gem your brother is. I think that memory is the one thing that can’t be taken from us although it’s good to have the reminder that photos provide. Enjoy those few revitalized photos

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  5. I love looking at my family’s old photos, and would be very sad if we lost them. What a great thing it is that your brother has uncovered these gems! I can feel the memories just looking at them. I was in Nepal just two years ago and it really is a wonderful place.

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  6. Wonderful photographs and a reminder to those of us who live in the digital age – archive or have your photos printed! I’m so guilty of taking photos on phones and other digital devices, not saving or printing them, and essentially losing years of memories. I recently responded to a call from a colleague for old, disused mobile phones for his son who is very interested in technology. I donated one and a few weeks later had an email from the colleague asking whether I wanted the photos on the phone. He subsequently sent them to me and I rediscovered a myriad of photos that I’d taken of my daughter aged 0-3 that I’d largely forgotten – and very few printed. It was such a lovely nostalgic journey that I could gave easily lost. Your photos remind us if the power of imagery – especially when it’s of family – grown or gone.

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    1. That’s an amazing story Amanda and how wonderful that you got those photos back. I notice my niece taking shots of her baby- now 2- on the phone and I wonder if they ever get printed. My daughter does send her phone photos to her computer hard drive, but again, what happens after that? Do any get printed? even if the kids get an annual shot at school, their holiday pics are never printed and stored: they can look through the hard drive, but- how many hard drives do we lose along the way?

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  7. Wonderful post. A gem. A bit sad, but happy that your brother had those photos. Just love the shots…went to Nepal 1986 and biked the valley – Bhaktapur as well. All those places you mention…we lived in a bungalow just below Fishtail mountain in Pokhara too. A Ghurka soldier’s home. Travelling Chitwan, the man on the ox- wagon said he was sorry about Olof Palme being shot. I remember the shock that he actually knew…about our leader back in remote Sweden. Two weeks after he’d been killed. I have no photos of this journey – had no camera in those days…
    Thank you for sharing and making me remember.

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    1. I’m glad you mentioned fishtail mountain Leya. In the last photo, that is a shot o Machapuchare (fishtail) but I needed a jog in my memory.I also had to revise the dates back to 1978- the mind does play tricks. Our friend Francis ‘disappeared’ one year after that photo was taken- he had spent some time in Nepalese jails and they were after him – Nepal then, behind the romance, had a nasty political situation, with an autocratic king and a corrupt bureaucracy.
      It sounds like you stayed there in Pokhara for a long time too. we stayed in a house in Swayambu for two months and went out from there. It was a magical time and I am sure you feel the same way.

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  8. What a lovely post, Francesca – i’m so sorry you lost all your photos – it strikes me that in cultures where photos don’t exist that must be why story telling is such a vital part of their lives – like verbal photos of where they have come from.

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  9. So glad Michael saved those wonderful photos. We (hubby and I) have slides we want to convert to photos but never seem to have the time – life has been busy. But now an effort is going to be made! Tibet is on our `to do` list. I’ve heard it’s a very interesting place to visit. I tried some Mo-Mo’s (Tibetan fried or steamed dumplings) at a market a couple of years ago and they were so scrumptious – I’d never had anything like them – even better than Gyoza’s. A middle-aged Tibetan man was cooking them onsite in his market tent in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane – there were about 4 to a box. He asked me if I wanted them steamed or fried and being me I said `fried`. They were shared with hubby and grandson and contained tiny cut-up vegies in the middle. Just wonderful. Anyway I will be sorting through my old photos in boxes and packets to see if I can find anymore buried treasures.

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  10. Truly precious. Makes me miss all my pre-digital photos that I left in my old country with my parents, in shoe boxes, when I moved to Italy three years ago. Somehow it didn’t seem functional to bring old memories along when new ones were about to be made. They are safe though. I guess that losing everything one owns is a major perspective-changer. I’m glad your children will have some of this kind of legacy as well.

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