Found History: Thrifted South Dakota Images

One of the fun parts of getting back into film photography (and having tools like dedicated film scanners) is hitting thrift/”antique” stores and occasionally picking up a collection of photo negatives or slides. 

These collections can be as large as hundreds (or even thousands) of images or as small as a single slide. Usually, there’s very little of general interest in these collections; they’re predominantly family memories and absent a connection to the family or the background in which the photos were taken, the images are difficult to engage with.

Seldom is the person pressing the shutter button a professional, so composition, lighting, focus, and the technical aspects often suffer. Selection of venue goes back to that vacation or event context, leaving those of us who see these years (decades) later perhaps less enthralled than those directly involved.

Still, when you look beyond the specifics of the image, there is many times something grander and greater in these collections: history, geography, geology, and sociology all captured and stuffed in a box on a shelf, just waiting for the right eye to come by and appreciate them.

Take for example this specific collection. In aggregate, there were roughly 750 slides of family vacations, weddings, gatherings, and general snapshots, roughly covering 1966-1977. Yet among the daily life were a section from a visit to South Dakota in 1973 complete with cars, landscapes, people, and culture.

Looking through the lens of the time, they are probably nothing spectacular but 50 years later, we get new perspectives not just on the content but on the time in which they were created.

I’ve been scanning and sharing some of these one-by-one on Reddit (r/SouthDakota) and connecting with a group whose affiliation with the state is strong. This history and context belongs to them as well as the originators, allowing these images to take on a new life, new meaning. I was asked about bringing them all together for easier viewing and so, this portfolio.

Depending on how history has impacted you and your ancestors, sometimes this documentation may be unpleasant. I don’t get the feeling that these specific images celebrate meanness or cruelty or hate directly but the reality of the times in which they were taken can definitely and rightfully be subject to interpretations influenced by heritage.

For good, ill, or otherwise, here are the South Dakota-centric images I’ve pulled from the slide collection so far. More will be added as I get through them and post them on the Reddit sub.

Photos: © Brad Brighton

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