Our family friend Joe Kaschak had a birthday that was always easy to remember, January 8th, the day after Orthodox Christmas. Most years, even after several days of Christmas celebrating, everyone would gather to celebrate Joe’s birthday, and I mean celebrate. Hearty celebrating of all occasions was a fact of life in our Carpatho-Rusyn circle of friends.
You could always count on Joe to have a camera with him on every occasion. He was the documenter of baptisms, bowling tournaments, weddings, Christmas parties; you name it. He wasn’t a photographer; he just took photos, lots of them. He never used a fancy camera by any means, usually an “Instamatic,” the inexpensive “point and shoot” variety. During a particularly raucous party that I happened to be at, one of Joe’s relatives yelled, “take a picture Joe!”, the saying stuck. The cry “take a picture, Joe” could be heard at almost any gathering from that day forward.
Joe’s legacy, however, was more than simply taking photos, he was a “photographic enabler.” Joe worked for General Aniline and Film (GAF), best known for X-ray film. GAF in the 1960s and 70s attempted to compete with Kodak in the 35mm film market. Joe worked in the GAF warehouse and had access to an unlimited supply of 35 mm film, which he readily distributed to all of his friends, including my father and eventually me. I suspect the film was expired or close to it, but nobody cared because it was free and included development. So, you’d put the film into the enclosed mailing envelope, drop it in the mail, and a week or so, you’d have your photos.
Unfortunately, the film quality was terrible. Slides taken with Kodak Kodachrome or Ektachrome were infinitely better than Anscochrome. It didn’t matter; all anyone was doing was freely taking photos with no concern for cost. My father took hundreds of photos, most poorly composed and poorly lit, but it didn’t matter. He photographed birthdays, vacations, and other family milestones that would have otherwise gone undocumented if not for Joe’s film. I’m sure the same was true of other friends that benefited from Joe’s generosity.
I have become the keeper of old family photos, many taken with Joe’s film. I offer a new saying in honor of Joe’s birthday: “thanks for the film Joe!”