Creative Wonders

Photographer’s Grandson Digitizes Thousands of Vintage Shots Found in Closet From 50s, 60s, 70s—and Older

BY Michael Wing TIMEAugust 17, 2022 PRINT

Rummaging through Herb’s closet, it becomes pretty clear: this man once owned a camera store.

From that closet, Charlie Mackenbach, Herb’s grandson, exhumed case after case filled with tens of thousands of 35-millimeter film transparencies, each neatly packaged in a slide frame that fits in the palm of a hand.

Herb had passed away. The family was cleaning the house, as grandma now had to move into assisted living.

Charlie didn’t know much about grandpa Herb, except that he was born in New York, served in World War II as an aerial photographer, and later owned Riviera Camera Store in Redondo Beach, near Charlie’s home in South Los Angeles.

Those nostalgic photos speak volumes into Herb’s personality.

Epoch Times Photo
Charlie Mackenbach’s photographer granddad, Herb Agid. (Courtesy of herbsarchive)
Epoch Times Photo
Riviera Camera Store in Redondo Beach, California. (Courtesy of herbsarchive)

A eulogy at Herb’s funeral also hinted that he had a redemptive character. Charlie, 22, told The Epoch Times about that—it harks back to that camera store.

“Herb’s shop was known at the time for where you’d go to get all the good lenses, good bodies,” he said. “It was just where all the high schoolers would go to get their stuff. It was kind of a hip place to hang out.

“So, this guy and his friends were kind of known for being a rambunctious group—you might say that. And they went over to the camera store, and when Herb or any of the employees weren’t looking, they stole a really expensive contact lens, and we’re talking about multiple thousand dollars at the time.

Epoch Times Photo
Redondo Beach (1960). (Courtesy of herbsarchive)
Epoch Times Photo
Colorado with the kids (Early 1960s). (Courtesy of herbsarchive)

“They just put it in their pocket and left. And when Herb was going through the inventory later, he saw that this one was missing, and got through his mind, ‘Oh, I wonder who could’ve taken this.’ And sure enough, the reputation of this guy and his friends—[Herb] put two and two together and called up this guy and said, ‘You know, I know you took this lens, I don’t want to press charges or anything. Just come bring the lens back.’

“So, this guy went to his friend’s house and picked up the lens that he stole and brought it back to Herb. And Herb just said, ‘You know, I forgive you, and I understand what it’s like to want something so badly and not be able to afford it.’

“That same guy is now 57 years old … this guy at Herb’s funeral, he got up and told that story, and said at that day, he learned about forgiveness. … Herb was a very loving guy and had so many friends. And that was just one of many stories that came out. Hopefully the images tell a somewhat similar story.”

Epoch Times Photo
Miscellaneous (1970s). (Courtesy of herbsarchive)
Epoch Times Photo
Perspectives (1950s-80s). (Courtesy of herbsarchive)

Herb snapped 50,000–60,000 slides during his extensive career—from war time, taking aerial shots of bombed-out cities and pictures for generals; to traveling the world, through Europe and India teaching photography; eventually publishing his own photography book. His impressive archive stretches back some 80 years.

Curiosity piqued; Charlie dove in, dusted with pressurized air, restored with isopropanol, and repackaged with new slide casings. Scanning and digitizing each shot—scratches, film burns, and all—he shared them on Instagram. The nostalgic scenes went viral.

Epoch Times Photo
LAX (1960). (Courtesy of herbsarchive)
Epoch Times Photo
India (1961). (Courtesy of herbsarchive)

“I thought people need to see it. A lot of people would appreciate it, and turned out they did,” said Charlie. “It just kind of took off. The response has been amazing. And I’ve gotten so many messages from people saying, ‘Oh, wow, this inspired me to do the same!’”

Few of the vintage pictures’ backstories survive, as loved ones weren’t present when Herb took them.

They bespeak of less-self-conscious times, before the narcissisms of smartphones, selfies, and Instagram. People were less paranoid of their mugs being trafficked on the deep web, said Charlie. In those years, a portrait was an honor.

“One of the main things that stood out to me is how willing people were to get their photo taken,” said Charlie. “So [Herb] has all these amazing images of people acting normal, and just in all their glory.”

Oh, the good old days.

Would that we could transport ourselves back! But Herb’s pictures—little portals into the past—might be the next best thing.

Epoch Times Photo
New York (1960s). (Courtesy of herbsarchive)
Epoch Times Photo
New York (1960s). (Courtesy of herbsarchive)
Epoch Times Photo
Paris (1960–70s). (Courtesy of herbsarchive)
Epoch Times Photo
Paris (1960–70s). (Courtesy of herbsarchive)
Epoch Times Photo
Portugal (1951). (Courtesy of herbsarchive)
Epoch Times Photo
Portugal (1951). (Courtesy of herbsarchive)
Epoch Times Photo
USSR (1950s). (Courtesy of herbsarchive)
Epoch Times Photo
USSR (1950s). (Courtesy of herbsarchive)
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Guatemala (1970s). (Courtesy of herbsarchive)
Epoch Times Photo
Guatemala (1970s). (Courtesy of herbsarchive)
Epoch Times Photo
France and Italy (1960–70s). (Courtesy of herbsarchive)
Epoch Times Photo
France and Italy (1960–70s). (Courtesy of herbsarchive)

More photos by Charlie’s Granddad Herb Agid:

(Courtesy of herbsarchive)

(Courtesy of herbsarchive)

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Michael Wing
Editor and Writer
Michael Wing is a writer and editor based in Calgary, Canada, where he was born and educated in the arts. He writes mainly on culture, human interest, and trending news.
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