Shoebox Full of Negatives From the 1930s Helps a Woman Learn More About Her Late Father

Woman in Elegant Vintage Clothes Posing on the Street

Joan Ruppert's father passed away when she was just a child, but thanks to a shoebox full of negatives, she's been able to learn more about his life as a young man. Taken when he was just out of high school, these pictures show a passion for photography and are an incredible glimpse at life in Chicago just before World War II.

The collection of photo negatives was passed down to Ruppert from her mother long ago; they sat untouched until they almost met their demise. The images, which Ruppert has called The Shoebox Negatives, risked being destroyed in a household flood several years back—before she'd really had a chance to examine them. “In a panic, I dumped them all into a bucket with water and Photo-Flo, strung them to dry and put them away in a newer, drier shoebox,” she tells My Modern Met.

More recently, Ruppert scanned these photo negatives, which she believes were originally developed in a makeshift darkroom, and began publishing them online. Taken starting in 1938, they show her father's friends and family as they go through life. From posed portraits to candid shots of his high school buddies joking around, they harken back to a more innocent time.

As an avid photographer, Ruppert's father was eager to document the world around him. And in doing so, he left behind a time capsule for his daughter and now people across the globe. Although Ruppert was never able to ask her father about the folks in his photographs and hear him tell the stories behind them, working on the project has certainly brought her closer to him.

The Shoebox Negatives are also proof that photographs are to be cherished and preserved. In this digital world, these physical images are precious reminders of the past.

Joan Ruppert received a shoebox of photo negatives that her father took in Chicago when he was a young man.
Boys on a Stoop in 1930s Chicago

Girl in Chicago Posing in Naval CostumeCandid Photo of a BarberYoung Boy in 1930s Chicago with His DogCouple from the 1930s KissingMan in Chicago in the 1930s with a Cigarette in His Mouth

As he died when she was a young girl, these vintage photographs are a unique way for her to learn more about his life.

Father and Son in Front of a Car in 1930s ChicagoOld Photo of a Couple Posing in Front of a Car in ChicagoLittle Girl Pushing a Boy on a BikeBlack and White Photo of a Man in Front of a Vintage TV

Now, she's scanned and shared his street photography for the public to enjoy.

Vintage Photo of Man Dressed Up as a WomanFriends Horsing AroundOld Portrait of a Couple in ChicagoMan Picking Up His Girlfriend Group of Friends from the 1930s Hanging Out in ChicagoVintage Photo of a Group of Girls Lying in the GrassKids in Chicago

The Shoebox Negatives: Website | Instagram

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Joan Ruppert.

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1940s Streets of Chicago Captured through the Eyes of a Young Photographer

Daughter Archives Mother’s Remarkable Photos of Poverty-Stricken 1980s England

Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.

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