Aug 05, 2020

Rare photos displayed at the fair

Photo by Bryan Cole / The Collegian

Photos from the 1920s have been restored and are on display at the fair

Fresno fairgoers have an opportunity to take a step back and get a glimpse of the past, literally.

Amidst foot massagers, bungee jumping and an automatic bull, the Pop Laval Foundation brought to the fair a little bit of what Fresno used to be.

“It is important for everyone to know where they have been to know where they are going,” said Elizabeth Laval, great-granddaughter of Claude “Pop” Laval.

Rows of black-and-white pictures of faces, cows, cars and whatever else that could be photographed in the 1920s, adorn one of the corners of the Home Arts Building at the Fresno Fairgrounds.

The pictures at the exhibit are only a few of the 100,000 that have been restored by the foundation and most of those photos still have not been restored.

“We have negatives that need to be restored, big negatives that are perishable, and we need to restore them before we lose a piece of a history,” said Laval, who is in charge of the Pop Laval Foundation.

Elizabeth Laval has taken on the task of gathering funds to restore the negatives her great-grandfather left when he died in 1966.

Photo by Bryan Cole / The Collegian

He was a commercial photographer in the Central Valley back in the 20s.

“He would take pictures of what was important back in the days. Right or wrong, good or bad, my great-grandfather was paid to take pictures.” Laval said.

Although he was a paid photographer, quite possibly the first in the area, Laval added, “He did not have any training. He was not a professional. Still, we keep finding photographs with some effects that now-a-days are still difficult to achieve and we have no idea how he did it in his time.”

Despite the fact that she does not know much about her great-grandfather, Elizabeth Laval said she can still see a lot about him in his pictures.

“The pictures all have a human element, like the Native Americans used to say that pictures take a piece of your soul, I think it’s true,” Laval said.

One of the foundation’s objectives is to familiarize children specifically with history by bringing them images they can relate to.

“We want to show kids what Fresno was like in the happier days since a lot of it has been lost,” Laval said. “And what a better way to do it than with pictures.”

Although there were not too many kids looking at the pictures, a number of adults could be found gazing longingly at the images of an earlier Fresno.

“I wish we could go back, back to when it was a simpler time and there weren’t that many problems,” said Karen Hayes, who was standing behind her sister staring at a picture of a young woman in showgirl attire, sitting on the windowsill of barn next to a horse.

“I’m sitting here sweating like a pig and complaining that there is no air conditioner; imagine what it was like for those girls in big dresses back in the old days,” said her sister Nancy Hayes, a Fresno resident since the 1970s.

The foundation still has a lot of work to do it announced plans to want to restore all of Pop Laval’s pictures. However, it is aware of the task that lies ahead and is willing to do it slowly.

“In total, it would cost us about to 10 million dollars to restore all of the pictures,” Laval said. “We are aware that this is a perpetual process.”

Laval said the funds they used to get through grants are no longer available and they are now depending on donations to finish the task.

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