I remember it well. The whole family gathered in my grandparents' living room, my sisters and I finding the best places to stretch out on the carpet. My grandad would close the blinds and flick off the lights, leaving us all in the dark silence for a couple of seconds — before the familiar hum of the projector, the dusty beam of light, the brightness of the big white screen and finally TCHLAK-CHLAK, … the first slide.
Whenever my grandparents Etienne and Claudine Mallard returned from one of their trips, there was no dinner-table chat about the sites and people, good food or bad weather. No, they'd sit us down and take us back with them, one picture at a time, to Sumatra, the Galapagos, South Africa, Norway, China, you name it. They'd show us.
Me and Grand-Père
A high-school philosophy teacher who conducted a local choir of traditional folk singing, my grandfather has indeed spent a lifetime venturing far and wide with my grandmother: first with their daughter Cécile, my mother, then on their own — travelling even more extensively since his retirement in 1991. The only year he didn't set out from the rural eastern region of Franche-Comté, where we were both born (him in 1930, me in 1987), was 1954, during his compulsory 18 months of military service.
That's my mom!
Grand-Père has always considered himself nothing more or less than an amateur photographer with decent equipment. “I take pictures to remember where we go,” he told me once. He has visited a running total now of 80 countries since he first went to Austria in 1949, and his pristinely organized boxes of slides has surpassed 20,000 images: from a wedding in Sicily to views across the Iron Curtain, a still sleepy Brazil in the 1960s to his most recent tour last spring of five Balkan countries — sadly without my Grand-Mère who'd passed away the year before.
Etienne & Claudine in Brazil
No doubt his trips, and those slide-projector nights, inspired me to begin my own travels whenever I get the chance — and I too bring along my Nikon DSLR (an iPhone doesn't quite cut it!) to remember where I go. Yes, it was my Grand-Père who got me my first camera when I was 10, and taught me the basics of how to shoot. In turn, over the past few years, I've helped him learn to use a computer and discover some of the seven wonders of the Internet.
My grandfather's first camera, an Exakta Varex
Eventually we ended up going out one day to buy a slide scanner, and since then he's been busy digitizing his “photos de touriste!” as he calls them — a life of travels in a world that has changed so much, or sometimes not at all, over the past sixty years.
My grandfather's far-flung travels must also have something to do with my winding up at Worldcrunch, where I'm responsible for the photography we post; and so it didn't take long to start wondering if my grandfather's files might be worth crunching too. The world is round indeed.
So now it's time for you to grab a place on the carpet, let me close the blinds and turn off the lights — Grand-Père will take it from here.
Associate editor, Worldcrunch
In orange: countries my grandparents visited