Same as it ever was: These snapshots show how life in the ’70s mirrors life today

From the book “Snapshots 1971-77” by Michael Lesy. (Blast Books)

In the late 1970s, my family would gather in our TV room and huddle together while the shooting hum of a Kodak carousel slide projector click-click-clicked through family moments thrown against the most uncluttered wall in the room. These instances were always a treat and always brought a sense of excitement.

Sometimes my mom would make popcorn and we’d have the rare treat of a soda to go with it. Thinking about it brings a warm feeling inside even now. I remember the bonding and the togetherness of those times maybe even more than the actual photographs.

I don’t have a family of my own these days, apart from my two unruly cats and my wife. So I’m not sure what today’s equivalent of the slide projector huddle may be. But I do know that photographs still play a huge role in how we see ourselves. Their proliferation on social media is an undeniable testament to that!

It doesn’t matter a whit whether the photos are professionally done. What’s important are the memories that lie within the photo frames. In the 1970s, that took the form of the slide show or the photo album. Both were filled with snapshots cementing significant and not-so-significant memories — memories that brought smiles and warmth and more.

These are precisely the kinds of images brought together in a forthcoming book by Michael Lesy called “Snapshots 1971-77” (Blast Books, 2021). It’s not a flashy book of fashion photos, immaculate still lifes or images of politics or war. Instead, the book showcases everyday life during the period noted in the title. And it’s delightful.

The story behind “Snapshots 1971-77” is fascinating and provides a little bit of a history lesson. That’s because most of the images in the book were found by Lesy and one of his friends in a dumpster behind a photo-processing plant in San Francisco.

Lesy’s friend worked as a courier for the plant, picking up film and delivering snapshots to and from drugstores. According to Lesy, the people working at the plant were so busy with their work that they barely noticed when he and his friend would go out back and rummage through the dumpster, collecting prints. In the end, they gathered tens of thousands of images this way, compiling a kind of record of life told through castoff prints.

The images in the book are fascinating for multiple reasons. The most obvious is the surface nature of them — the record of bygone fashions being chief among them. But when you dig a little deeper, you’ll see that it is also a record of the moments that make up our continuing, unchanged story of humanity. Looks aside, we still get married, dance and laugh, and hang out together.

While so many things have changed so drastically, the threads that bind us together are still pretty similar to those from the 1970s. That’s the beauty of life, and one of the main messages of Lesy’s book. Things change, but, in a lot of ways, they actually stay the same for good or bad.

Lesy is the author of more than a dozen books, including the classic — which I studied in graduate school, by the way — “Wisconsin Death Trip.” He is an emeritus professor of literary journalism at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass.

You can find out more about “Snapshots 1971-77″ here.

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff members and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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