Remnants

Alvin Bettinger, Jr.

All that remains of my grandfather’s work, a lifetime of photographs, is inside a large book of contact sheets—images only about an inch wide each. Taken between the early 1940s and the late 1960s, they show family and friends, coworkers, and complete strangers, mostly in Illinios and Wisconsin.

I only met my grandfather once that I can remember, when I was ten years old. He was moving from London to Arizona and stopped to sleep on my parents couch for a few weeks. Early each morning my grandfather and I would sit on the couch in the living room and watch cartoons. It was the same couch I was sitting on, years later, when I found out he had died. I remember laughing nervously as I told my best friend. He was the first dead person I knew.

A year or so after he died, my mother received boxes and suitcases full of my grandfather’s belongings, among them this book of contact sheets. All of the negatives had been lost, damaged in a basement flood. Now all that remains is this small chunk of time, hazy reflections of lost and forgotten moments.

Decades later, I sit here and obsess over this world that no longer exists, hoping to discover something about a man I never knew in the haunting gazes of strangers.