Vintage Photography Finds in an Abandoned Area


Last month in a demolished area in the North of Kunming City, the capital of Yunnan Province, I found some abandoned vintage black and white negatives in 120mm and 35mm.

Ciao lomo friends! I want to share with you these lost and found vintage pictures and also some of my thoughts.

Right now, I’m in Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province and the municipality is working hard in changing the skyline. Everyday, there are new construction sites while old urban areas get quickly demolished. In the city, there are also huge works in progress for the new and first underground line. There is a feeling that you are in the past, present and future of this big city. Because of the constant work in progress during the year, there are partial blackouts. One morning in July, I was at home, and without any advisory, water, electricity and gas were cut off. What the hell?! When they told us later that everything would be working after 10 hours, we decided to take a long walk. This random walk was very nice. I took with me my LC-A+ and get some nice street shots.

I thought of taking a nice and different walk near a small river in the northernmost area of the city. Surprisingly, I saw that a street that was once used by cars to reach some fishing facilities, was turned into a green area, and all the facilities were demolished. Walking around the ruins, I saw a 35mm film and I took a picture of it. But then, I saw many other negatives and some 120mm films. This was really unexpected because I usually t see playing cards, toys, and shoes; never negatives. Furthermore, these days in Kunming, a lot of Labs stopped selling films, as people prefer digital and use labs only to have prints. Usually, I don’t pick up things that I find on the ground, but in this case I thought, “If I don’t pick them, they will be destroyed, since they were already abandoned by the owners.”

Here you can see where I found the films.

All the 120mm and 35mm negatives were in terrible conditions, covered by dried mud and dust. Some pictures were broken, scratched, erased… I put everything in a plastic bag and I brought it home. It was my first time with damaged film, so I asked my friend superlighter for advice, because I didn’t know what to do. He was surprised by my strange question, but he suggested me to wash them with liquid soap and water, dry them gently with fingers and roll out drying.

Their look is simple and therefore they look very charming.

It worked perfectly with the 120mm but on the 35mm the emulsion, I was just able to recover only few photos, so I stopped because I was afraid to damage the others 35mm pictures(I still have the plastic bag full).

Days to remember

As you can see above the recovered 120mm pictures seems taken around ’70s or early ’80s, maybe during a honeymoon. Only one photo seems to be older: a school trip. When I scanned this one, the photo turned right only scanning like a positive, and for this reason, this is the only picture were you can see red Yunnan soil. The others were scanned like traditional negatives or black and white, because the erased part in these pictures make my scanner mad.

I like these portraits even if they are very ruined. This lady looks beautiful and precious.

The 35mm recovered pictures are all portraits of a woman, clearly the same woman from the honeymoon in Beijing, maybe 10 years later. I made a quick look at the other 35mm negatives and it seems that in the plastic bag, I have their life in photos: I saw a little girl growing up. Unfortunately I don’t know how to save these negatives without erasing the photos, because washing them made some photos turn transparent.

Their unforgettable lovely day

This “lost and found” films make me think again and again about the value of films. Why didn’t the original owner pick these films? Probably because he/she has the original prints. And maybe he/she thought that negatives are irrelevant because he/she have enough copies. In fact, if I think about the past, I remember from my own experience that I used to put all films in a box and take care more about the photos and posting them in an album. A lot of my friends used to do the same, films were picked up only if necessary to make a copy for family or friends.

Vintage love

Now, in the recent years, because I’m shooting as a lomographer, and because I cannot rely on labs in cutting my photos and my films, or didn’t want to print my pictures, I have less prints and a lot of negatives. My relation with negatives has returned to its origins. When my mum and my dad introduced me in the wonderful world of the pictures, they were telling me about when they were young, negatives were kept by the studio photographer, so during the years, the printed photos became older and the paper got damaged.

I’m sorry that I don’t know how to save the 35mm films that I found. If you know a working way, please feel free to contact me! When I see this plastic bag with all these negatives, now that I know that there’s an entire family history inside, I hope I can save these photos.

Maybe, one day, I can give the recovered photos to the original owners. Having the original negatives is important because paper prints can get damaged by time. We live in the Internet era, so everything is possible. Who knows, maybe I can give them their pictures back!

written by domyblue on 2011-10-03 in #lifestyle #photography #lost #lomography #china #retro #vintage #35mm #requested-post #lifestyle #film #120mm #found #analogue-lifestyle #abandoned #black-and-white


  1. laurasulilly
    laurasulilly ·

    That's so so beautiful. How great you found those negeatives, and how great that you yould save some at least!

  2. pomps
    pomps ·

    love your article! something similar happened to me last year and I thought exactly! as you I don't also pick up things but there was something inside me that told me not to let those negatives be destroy for ever. They were in the street among many other thrown things. I picked up the negatives and took they home. The strange thing is that they are lost in my house somewhere. They were all about a family and their holidays.
    I also love the series of portraits that you found. Hope one day you can reunite negatives and owners :)

  3. hermesmachado
    hermesmachado ·

    Your article is amazing. What I find really interesting is that the pictures are "disintegrating", and that's what I loved about it. It's about how the time and the weather destroyed it, something that could hardly happens with digital photography. The analogical style always keep telling me that life is about disintegrating and death, and that organic memory, human memory, can not be exactly reproduced or exactly passed to other generation without losing a part of its experience (or a part of its material counterpart). I'm just sorry for my english. Great article!

  4. herbert-4
    herbert-4 ·

    I hadn't read this before. Wonderful, precious find. The pretty young woman in the portrait looks, from the makeup, early 1960's, and Central Asian, maybe Yakutia (?). About 30 years ago, I had some neighbours who had that look and spoke Russian and came from Siberia.

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