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Published: Sunday, 10/3/2010

Old aerial photos digitized, offered for sale via the Web

BY ROD LOCKWOOD
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Paul Clark, left, Kevin Marsh, center, and Ken Krieg, founders of Vintage Aerials in Maumee, display aerial photographs in print and digital form. Paul Clark, left, Kevin Marsh, center, and Ken Krieg, founders of Vintage Aerials in Maumee, display aerial photographs in print and digital form.
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The pictures are as unassuming as the lifestyle they capture, which is perhaps what gives them so much staying power.

Just a farm photographed from the air, clean shots that capture a moment of prosperity or austerity with a simplicity that makes the view look almost like a children's play set. Visit a farm in the '60s or '70s and chances are you saw one of these aerial photographs of the homestead framed on a wall.

If the folks at Vintage Aerials have their way, you'll see a lot more of these pictures capturing the country's rural fabric like pieces in a vast quilt. The fledgling firm in Maumee with deep roots has more than 16 million of the photos stored in a bunker-like room at its headquarters.

The goal is to digitize the pictures and offer them for sale on the Internet to an entire generation that has fond memories of a youth hanging out at their grandparents' farm or to older adults who want to capture a bit of their history.

"Can you imagine going back in time and finding something you thought you'd never see again?" asked Ken Krieg, director of sales for Vintage Aerials and one of the firm's founders.

Ken Krieg, director of sales for Vintage Aerials, looks at boxes of old film in the company's vault. Ken Krieg, director of sales for Vintage Aerials, looks at boxes of old film in the company's vault.
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"It's a walk down memory lane. It's where you grew up, maybe where your kids grew up," said Kevin Marsh, director of engineering and another founder. "It's starting to rebuild that fabric of rural America."

Bud Bauman, the owner of Whitehouse Motors, bought his Swanton Township home in 1963, shortly after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He's lived there ever since and raised a family there. He recently purchased a photo of his home that was taken in the 1980s.

"I'd seen these pictures before of farms and things like that and I always thought it was rather unique because the camera angle is unique and you don't get that perspective from just walking around the property."

Fifty years ago a fairly simple idea with a daredevil bent was conceived: pilots would go up in two-seater planes with a map, a pencil, and a camera. They'd buzz over farms from 900 feet above taking pictures of every farm along a road, marking the map as they went.

This was done all over the country over the years and many farms were photographed repeatedly so that changes in a property's landscape and buildings were chronicled.

Then a salesman like Mr. Krieg, who has been doing this work for decades, would contact the farmers along the road and offer the photo for sale. Having an aerial picture of the homestead was a novel idea for many people who lived in a rural environment.

The pictures were taken by companies that preceded Vintage Aerials and it occurred all over the United States, with planes going up every decade or so. The work also occurred at a time in America when people were more homebound and less transient.

"[Door-to-door sales] worked years ago because everyone was home," Mr. Krieg said. "People looked forward to someone coming around every five years and showing them pictures."

Mr. Krieg and Paul Clark, Vintage Aerials' third founder and its director of technology, met a few years ago and compared notes. Mr. Krieg had worked for other firms that sold aerial photos and Mr. Clark had a strong background in technology.

They decided to combine their efforts and form a company that would merge the massive database of old photos with the Internet, taking advantage of online maps and social networks to market the pictures and reach new audiences.

There's a third component to the effort that involves a race against the ravages of time: all those old photos and reel after reel of film negatives won't last forever.

"We're losing the film and that's it," Mr. Clark said. "These are the only images in the country."

The firm's Web site at www.vintageaerial.com allows customers to post comments about their farm, which, combined with the address of the home, the names of the residents, and the photo creates a permanent record of each location's history. The photos cost between $149 and $449.

"It's a visual database that will allow the convergence of technology to hold the story together," Mr. Marsh said.

For Mr. Bauman it's simply a way to preserve a little bit of his family's history.

"I think the children will look at it and see the changes that have occurred. I think someday they may enjoy hanging the picture in their home or just hang it in the basement, who knows," he said, laughing.

Contact Rod Lockwood at:

rlockwood@theblade.com

or 419-724-6159.



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