It is best if I start by telling you a bit about myself and my wife and how this discovery happened.
My name is Mike Clapham, I was born in Sussex England, in a small village called Framfield and after leaving school I had various careers that took me to many places in lots of different countries. I have always had a very keen interest in photography and spent many an hour in my darkroom with a particular leaning towards Black & White images, this has remained with me to this day, even with the move into digital photography and all that it entails.
My other great interest has been computing since around 1980 and I have been building my own systems for the last 30 years, another thing that has been very beneficial to the project.
My wife Maria was born in Slovakia, in Vratna the heart of The Mala Fatra National Park , her childhood she assures me was idyllic, living in a chalet next to the Vratna Chleb lift, learning to ski from a very early age, spending her time in the mountains, her knowledge of the area has proved to be of great value to the project.
In 1998 she left Slovakia to work in England, I had a gardening business then and in late 2000 she was also working for one of my clients which is how we met.
She returned to Slovakia that year for a short time and I came to Slovakia to see her and discovered this amazing country she came from, in 2001 she returned to England to live with me, we worked together in our gardening business and were married in 2002 and remain happily so to this day.
We used to return to Slovakia every January or February for a month to escape the weather in the UK, not a time for gardening I can assure you, it was during one of these visits that I began to learn about her family and in particular her grandfather Milan Saradin.
Everything about him was so interesting but the thing that caught my imagination most of all was that he had been a famous and prolific photographer in Slovakia with an emphasis on this area from the mid 1930s till he died in 1984.
The best discovery I made was that hundreds of his photographs were still around and most important of all, boxes of negatives some of which I was to discover had never been seen by anyone , not even the man himself because they were still in rolls in the cans, developed but not printed.
For me this was amazing and I spent many an hour looking through just a few of them during our visits.
In 2007 we began to build a chalet here in Terchova and in 2009 we left England and came here to live and to discover all about this beautiful country and its people, moving to a different country can be an amazing experience, I would highly recommend it.
By 2012 we were sorted out with home and garden and things were running quite smoothly so we approached Maria’s grandmother to ask if we could take all the negatives and photos that belonged to her husband and I would scan them in to my computer with a view to making a website and putting them there for everyone to see, this she was happy for us to do, so we gathered up all the boxes and took them to our chalet to begin the work…… oh, if only we had known what we were taking on.
Just imagine how it was for me to open the metal boxes and find inside hundreds of envelopes each containing negatives, in singles and strips, some only held one negative others dozens, there was very little information on the envelopes and most of the time it did not relate to the contents.
You have to realise that these negatives had been sitting in a cellar since 1984, people had been allowed to come and look for the odd picture once in a while so they had basically been disrupted from any order that might have existed, also many were damaged by damp which rendered them unusable although I did contact several people about renovation but it would have been uneconomical to even try.
So I decided to just start scanning and sort them out afterwards, it soon became apparent that there were many more than I first thought, we have never counted them but by a rough estimate we thought there were approximately 8000.
So I began what turned out to be a long job, nearly four years to be exact but it was a magical time, every time I put new negatives in the scanner I would find something that was too good to keep to myself and would call Maria to have a look, I think when I reached 2000 images I decided to start sorting them into catagories with a view to putting them on a website, at first it was my own site, then I purchased the existing site in Milan’s name.
Anyone who has ever done anything like this will know how many tasks are involved, first we had to identify each image, who or what it was and when it was taken, this was quite a problem, very few of the envelopes had any detail, no locations, no names and worst of all no dates of when they were taken.
I know this took the longest to do, asking family, friends or anyone if they could give us any information, I think that for me this was a great learning curve, I discovered the names of mountains, valleys, towns, villages, people, events and so much more that I would never have known had it not been for this project, some people even hinted that I probably knew more about the area than those who lived here, I don’t know about that but I gained a lot of knowledge about this place I live in thanks to Milan.
By 2016 we had a database of pictures, we put most of them online and I had around 4500 black and white plus 500 colour images on my computer, I estimated this to be roughly 60% of the total number of negatives, the best quality ones to be precise and on the website I had nearly 3500 which was a good start.
Over the next few years we produced galleries and exhibitions promoting Milan’s work, a list of these can be found here [link] it was so good to see his images on display at last.
In 2019 I decided to take another look at the negatives and I hoped to scan every single one of them and put them into better storage, I now owned a better scanner and new and improved software which was showing me much better scans than the first time around.
I also decided to be more methodical in my approach so I sorted the negatives into folders according to certain groups for example locations, skiers, flora etc. a better method than randomly selecting from the metal boxes, that took quite a while but was worth it in the end.
The first image scanned was on 04-03-2019 and 12 months later I had 2950 images scanned and sorted, by then we were in full lockdown with Covid 19 and it gave me plenty of time to get a good workflow going.
As I mentioned at the beginning I have always built my own PC systems and in March 2020 I decided to build a more up to date system, this helped speed up the processing side of things, I will have a detailed article on how I processed each image from scan to storage in another section.
By March 2021 I had completed all the scanning and now had 6300 black & white images plus 703 colour images, there were still quite a few that were too badly damaged to include, most of these were colour negatives or transparencies, the main problem was mould due to them being stored in the family basement for the past 35 years, but 7000 images was not far short of our original estimate and was a good result.
In February 2021 I redesigned the website using a new theme that allowed me to tailor it to my needs, it is a fairly simple layout but I believe people are visiting it to look at the images and do not need loads of excess rubbish to distract them.
As of 20th May 2021 the website contains a total of 18 albums with 142 galleries holding 3677 black & white images, plus 14 galleries holding 359 colour images, giving us just over 4000 images of Milan’s work, it looks and feels well worth it.
Our main objective
Our thinking has always been that these are of such historical value to the area, that they need to be seen by people who lived during the period down to the younger generation who never saw what it was like then, from the 1940s through to the 1980s, how people lived worked and played, everything that we do today but then in such different circumstances, he seemed to capture the moment in so many of his photos but everyone will have their idea of his best picture.
If you have any questions to ask contact us using the email link on the website, we really hope you enjoy what you see and learn more about what went on over those years.