Some people still remember this long-lost social tradition. For most, the Great Slide Night is a forgotten memory.
“Slide nights? Oh yeah. Hey! I remember those! I wonder what happened to them?”
Before I answer that question, let’s recall what a typical suburban slide night looked like.
Fondues and flared corduroy pants made an appearance on most slide nights. So too did copper art and things made in mission brown or walnut. The Carpenters or perhaps The Eagles was being played in the background.
(Are those memories intensifying with each passing second?)
The seventies were the decade of The Great Slide Night, a strange yearly routine where neighbours gathered to see projected still images of someone’s past travel adventures on a large white screen.
I know. I took part in it three times.
I was just a kid.
People from around the neighbourhood arrived at night at our house to see a screen set up in our living room. To get the height right for the projector’s lens, the machine had to sit on top of a coffee table, and a few select books.
My mother offered food and drinks… and ashtrays too. Ashtrays were everywhere. Ashtrays were very important in the seventies. Everyone smoked.
I remember loading the cartridge for my dad. His precious slides had to go into it in a particular order and in a certain way. I was in charge of that. I took my responsibility very seriously.
Each slide inserted into the cartridge needed to go upside down. At eight, I knew that right-side up was the wrong way around. I also learned about left and right too. It was easy to get a slide backwards both ways.
“Next slide boy,” my dad said with a nod. I pressed the red button on the machine and it clicked. Our living room went dark. There was a clackety-clack and then the screen lit up with a new image.
A great show was when no one had to tip their head over to see a picture. A perfect night was one when Dad nodded and simply said, “Thanks, boy.”
I’m the eldest child in my family and was allowed to stay up long after my siblings went to bed. There was a limit to that freedom though. My job was over when the show was done. After-dinner-mints would come out and I’d be ushered down the hallway before the box was opened.
Looking back, the whole slide show thing seems somewhat bizarre.
Why did neighbours want to come to see my dad’s travel slides anyway? We didn’t even know these people, not really.
Dad’s pictures were pretty boring, mostly of Singapore (he was in the NAVY). On rare occasions, he was in the picture. I remember there were lots of cars, motorcycles and people in them.
If someone in my street knocked on my door today and said they had a showing of photos inside their home next Saturday night, we’d probably call the police and watch social media for the updates.
When I think about what people take photos of today, Dad’s pics hardly made for interesting content at all.
There were never any shots of the plates of food he ate.
No coffee cup pics appeared anywhere.
No fancy cocktails being drunk at popular beaches in front of golden sunsets.
No girls in yoga pants standing on their heads outside Hindu temples.
There were definitely no selfies of any kind.
And the neighbours still came to see what he had to offer anyway.
What happened to The Great 70s Slide Night? Why didn’t it become The Great Slide Night of The 80s or The 90s?
Mini-labs took over.
The one-hour colour processing and printing system changed the way we took and displayed our images.
People stopped projecting their images onto screens and started placing their printed photos into frames and albums. Viewings required virtually no effort. There’s no projection screen to set up and no projector to load and focus. A viewing doesn’t even need to be held at night. One-on-one showings can happen anywhere and at any time.
Eventually, the slide night faded into history.
Now, we use our devices to take and display images — or send them to social media, or photography platforms.
I try to put what my parents did back then into a modern context but I find it hard to come up with an equivalent. The internet doesn’t have an event like a slide show. There are lots of options to share images with others but nothing like the humble slide night.
Social media certainly has greater reach but our parents weren’t looking for reach or likes. This was done for our neighbours. Neighbourly niceness was a frequent part of seventies life. Locals took care of one other.
We say we’re more social today but I say that we’re mostly in touch with a bunch of strangers. We don’t knock on neighbours’ doors and ask them over to our house for a night of chit-chat, trashy food and picture-sharing. Some would say the idea of slide shows is a little creepy.
In later years, I’d grow up and come to own several projectors of my own. I shot on slide film all the time. My slide shows weren’t for friends or family but for prospective clients.
I became a professional photographer.
The two machines were synchronised through a fade controller and displayed images of weddings and various portraits. They were then projected onto a large screen in my studio. The slide shows ran almost every day and helped me make a lot of money during the 90s. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. In fact, I might not have had the idea to bring a slide show into my business if I hadn’t experienced one in the 70s.
When I finished being a photographer, I wrote a book about photography. It’s not a how-to book. It’s a novel about a photographer trying to make it in the business of wedding photography. We get to meet some of the crazy characters who are drawn to taking pictures of couples in what is an intimate period of their lives.
There’s Linda the homebound housewife who’s taking wedding pictures on the weekend to escape her controlling husband and to seek validation through what she calls her art.
Maxine takes wedding photos because she adores the romance of weddings. She also loves parties and free champagne. She doesn’t mind men in suits either. She’s known to wake up with a groomsman and then brag about it the next day.
Andrew has been in the business the longest. He’s a more honourable person than Maxine. He keeps his private life private and separate from his professional one. It works most of the time but Maxine’s mouth denies this. When the champagne flows, so does the information. Maxine and Andrew have been seeing each other on the side and it’s not a look Andrew wants to show everyone.
Someone is going to die.
What? Over that?
Not over that.
Like many artists, the art of photography attracts people who are one part driven by the passion for expressing themselves through their art. This passion is often accompanied by two parts insecurity and another part that’s completely irrational. When the mix is off, it can become the right kind of blend to force an emotional storm to the surface that’s strong enough to commit a momentary act of extreme violence.
There. That was easy to say. Make sense now?
The novel is called SEETHINGS and it’s available here —free for a limited time.
By the way, Maxine didn’t die.
Or did she?