Black and white trams

A couple of years ago a tramway (or light rail) was built in Canberra for the first time. I recently took some photos of the tram as it waited for a young woman with a big dog to board, and then compared my photos with one from my father’s war album, showing some soldiers standing beside a tram. It was hard to find out where his photo was taken. An internet search for Basta produces two places, one north of Cairo, and another in Beirut, Lebanon. The place in Egypt was a historical landmark whereas Basta in Beirut had tramways. I’m guessing this photo was taken there, when my father went there in 1942.

How do the two photos compare? Everything in the newer photo looks sharp but that’s possibly because everything in it has existed for less than twenty years, trams, buildings, paving, the lot! Only the sky above and the land below are old! The writing on the signs in each photo, “Basta” and “Aussie”, shows the age difference; the former has fuzzy edges, the latter is clear. The new photo shows reflections from gleaming glass and metal whereas the old one makes the Basta tram look comparatively unshiny. The Canberra tram is bright red and in a colour photo looks great, but the colour distracts from the story (which is what I love about old black and white photos).

But while modern photo technology produces clearer images, it’s also good for revealing detail in the old images. The World War II photo in its album is about three by two inches and has a lot of dark shadows. I’ve had it professionally scanned and when I adjust it digitally, increase the light and reduce the darkness, some extra men appear, the ones standing in the tram who were invisible in the original! The old black and whites have untold detail hiding in the shadows, and it’s fantastic that we can now fiddle with the light and bring out hidden history.

These two photos have the tram in common but there’s coincidentally another small thing. The sign on the business beside the Canberra tram says “Aussie” and the men standing beside the Basta tram are Aussies.

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Published by Trish

Literary translator

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