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Opinion: Worth 1,000 words

Someone, name now forgotten, walked into the newspaper office in Wessington Springs with a box in hand, complete with that jingling sound that warns there's definitely something breakable inside.

Someone, name now forgotten, walked into the newspaper office in Wessington Springs with a box in hand, complete with that jingling sound that warns there's definitely something breakable inside.

Heavy and worn at the bottom, the box was overflowing with old glass photographic plates. The person didn't have use for them anymore, knew that the True Dakotan has a darkroom and simply left it at that.

It didn't take long before I swooped in, relieving the newspaper office I practically grew up in of this trove of historic treasures.

In the darkroom I still keep in my home, I made prints of the plates and put the photos, which appear to be circa 1915, in a scrapbook. I don't know who the people are, but an educated guess tells me that most of the photos are from a trip to Yellowstone. The pictures, by the way, are exquisite.

With that book on my desk this week, it makes me wonder: How many photos aren't developed in this digital age?

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It must be millions, but I suppose there's no way of saying for sure. I do know that at least two photo businesses in town have disappeared since the digital age. Loren's Camera Shop -- later Bollack's Camera Shop -- and Jet Photo, both of which were mainstays in the local business district, are no longer.

"I have several digital cameras and take a lot of digital photos, but when I do, I get them printed," said Marge Bollack, who saw her camera store close when big-name competition -- chiefly Wal-Mart, she says -- came to town. "More and more, (printing pictures) is going by the wayside. ... Unless people keep up with it, there won't be a photographic history anymore."

People need to remember a few things about digital photography, Bollack said. First, when photos are printed at home, or even at some printing businesses, the paper that is used isn't always of the quality that will last. Kodak photography paper is guaranteed for more than a century, she said; the paper used at home in most photo printers, maybe five to 10 years, she said.

Also, many people these days don't print their pictures at all, but instead keep them saved in their computer's hard drive. That's dangerous, Bollack said, for obvious reasons.

"The computer crashes and there goes three years of photos," she said.

Think of what we're doing. A century from now, families may not have shoeboxes of photos stashed away in that musty old closet. Few of us have our photos completely organized into albums, but we've still got piles of those old pictures -- closed eyes, bad hair and all. Our shoeboxes will be passed to the next generation.

I can't help thinking about the unknown family whose pictures adorn my prized scrapbook, created from those century-old plates. Keep in mind that taking photos back then wasn't easy, nor was it quick. It required planning, skill and a little luck.

Whoever took these pictures knew what he was doing.

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A few examples:

n A photo of two women, sitting on a cliff in the mountains, dressed in hats, long-sleeved shirts and heavy dark skirts.

n A woman sternly playing piano, as two young girls -- in dresses, of course -- sing from a book, titled "The Song Primer."

n A mother, posing with four blonde youngsters, reading "The Aesop for Children."

But it's the vacation pictures that intrigue me most. They're beautiful, perfect photos of what I assume are the Yellowstone River gorge, the falls of the Yellowstone and roads that wind through mountain valleys.

If these photos were taken today, on fancy digital cameras or cellular telephones, would they all be developed and carefully placed in frames or albums?

Or would they lie dormant, stashed in a computer hard drive somewhere, never to be seen. Really, when you think about it, it's not much different than the old box of plates dropped off that day at the True Dakotan.

With the summer travel season looming, The Daily Republic invites readers to share their favorite vacation photo with us. Some will be published, while all will be put into a gallery on our Web site, at mitchellrepublic.com.

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We ask that your photos show a definite location, meaning a mountain range, a monument or tourist attraction, and not just, say, a child eating ice cream in a close-cropped shot. Photos with people in the shot are preferred.

Send pictures by e-mail to dailynews@mitchellrepublic.com or by regular mail to: Editor, The Daily Republic, Box 1288, Mitchell, S.D., 57301. Include the names of all people shown in the photo, where the photo was taken and your telephone number, in case we have further questions. We won't publish your phone number, but we will return your picture.

It can be photos of this summer's vacation, or of trips past.

Newsroom staff members of The Daily Republic have gotten the ball rolling on the project. Some of our photos already are posted on mitchellrepublic.com.

Have a good summer, and remember: develop your pictures.

kwenzel@mitchellrepublic.com

Korrie Wenzel has been publisher of the Grand Forks Herald and Prairie Business Magazine since 2014.

He is a member of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. board of directors and, in the past, has served on boards for Junior Achievement, the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation, United Way, Empire Arts Center, Cornerstones Career Learning Center and Crimestoppers.


As publisher, Wenzel oversees news, advertising and business operations at the Herald, as well as the newspaper's opinion content.



Wenzel can be reached at 701-780-1103, or via Twitter via @korriewenzel.
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