We all hope to be remembered when we are gone. To create something that will recall our existence to future generations. Aspenite Nick DeWolf left behind a number of legacies from which to choose when he passed away in 2006. As co-founder and CEO of Teradyne, a Boston-based manufacturer of automatic test equipment, he paved the way for modern computer technologies. As co-creator of Aspen’s dancing fountain, he has delighted families (and their furry friends) on the downtown mall for 40 years. DeWolf’s biggest legacy, however, might be the one that is still coming into focus. Photography was DeWolf’s greatest passion, and he chronicled his life in pictures with a thoroughness that bordered on compulsion.
“He took pictures of everyone. And everything. At all times,” says Steve Lundeen, a Seattle-based archivist for the Nick DeWolf Photo Archive (NDPA). Lundeen, who is also DeWolf’s son-in-law, has scanned and tagged over 107,000 images to date—thousands more remain. It’s a methodical process that Lundeen likens to putting together a puzzle. “It moves at a pace that provides time for discovery, the uncovering of clues, unexpected answers, and occasionally leads into a dead end—but each photo fits somewhere. It must! This isn’t a random collection of photos; it is one man’s life, fully and completely documented.”
That life in pictures provides the most wonderful of internet rabbit holes (flickr.com/photos/dboo/albums, @nickdewolf.archive), where the photos are available for publications and research, but not purchase. From black-tie balls in Boston’s Back Bay to big-wave surfing in Oahu’s Waimea Bay, the NDPA puts you into DeWolf’s far-flung adventures. Some photos are brilliant, captured at what Henri Cartier-Bresson referred to as “the decisive moment.” Others are less so, out of focus or framed funkily, but that is the beauty of Lundeen’s project; he is not striving for perfection by selecting the best frames, he is seeking completeness and including all the frames for posterity. “There are some very good, perhaps even great photos in the archive,” he says. “There are as many bad. Most are unremarkable, somewhere in between. That’s life, isn’t it?”