YouTube Had Nothing on Dad

Greg Kelly's physician father had a passion for shooting home movies back when most people weren't shooting videos, but he captured something poignant and meaningful through his hobby.

Every now and again when I’m feeling down, I’ll break out some of my family’s old home movies. I’ve learned that you can go home again—if only for awhile.

For this bit of occasional therapeutic nostalgia I credit my physician dad, who was a dedicated home-movie photographer. Even as a husband, father of 8, and busy doctor, he took the time to record his growing family on film for future generations to watch.

In recent years, I converted his large collection of 8mm films to VHS (and now to DVD) and sometimes I watch them on TV along with family members. They’re a wonderful, personal cinematic portrait that can provoke both tears and laughter.

Lone shooter

Back in the early 1950s when dad started his home-movie hobby, he was pretty much alone.

“Not many others did it then and I had no experience or training in photography but I wanted to capture my family for posterity in some permanent way. And I didn’t want photographs,” dad told me.

Indeed, very few Kelly family photos exist.

Well before the time of today’s handy, hi-tech cameras and smart phones, my dad made do with an old Bell & Howell 8mm camera. In those days, there was no in-camera review tool to see what you filmed nor were there any one-hour film developing shops.

“It wasn’t easy back then,” dad explained. “For me, taking home movies was a lot of trial and error. I’d shoot a scene and have to wait for the film to be developed to see if I got it right. Ultimately, I think I got pretty good at it.”

Being the ever-observant clinician, he took his behind-the-camera efforts pretty seriously. Watching the films as a young boy (I alone knew how to operate the projector), I remember my dad’s shrieks when we’d see a scene with his hand in front of the camera or a shot of an unattended camera left running.

Treasured times caught

In these trying times, I sometimes think we neglect to reflect back on the “good old days.” It’s a worthy pursuit, though. Like all families, mine had our good times and bad times. When I view those videos (and there’s some YouTube worthiness here) the unpleasant times slip away and for a brief moment I’m young and innocent again.

Over a 20-year period, dad recorded on film the standard fare—birthdays, holiday parties, weddings, graduations, sporting events, and vacations (and a whole lot of bad hair and tacky cloths).

But he also captured something far more poignant and meaningful—our lives and experiences as an American family. For that I’ll always be grateful.