Found film rolls are always exciting, but even more fun when they turn out to be half-a-century old and yield wonderfully nostalgic holiday snapshots from the South of France, featuring cute kids with straw hats.
“Hi, I’m a rookie camera collector. In some old cameras, I’ve found a few exposed rolls of film. I’m not doing anything with them, they’re just gathering dust, and so I’ve decided to give them away. Anyone interested?”
Analogue photography is still pretty new to me, but the virus has caught on. Over the past months, I’ve collected some two-dozen vintage cameras, ranging from handsome classics like the Cosina CX-2 and Rollei A26 to plastic-fantastic flimsies, such as the Fex-Indo Viva 126 and Haking Pix Panorama. Every time I stumble upon an abandoned camera, I desperately hope to find an orphaned film roll inside. So far, it has happened only once: I found a roll of Kodak Gold, but unfortunately without a single shot on it.
Which is why my attention was immediately caught, when on Flickr I found the above message from one Alexandre from Marseilles. It was posted a month earlier and some people had already responded, so I was convinced the found film rolls were long gone. Then I noticed the responses were quite indifferent, along the lines of: “As long as you pay for postage, I will do it for you, let me know.” So I took the gamble, sent a friendly message and a couple days later, the mailman delivered a yellow padded envelope from France.
Inside were six rolls of film: two 120s, three 620s and a little one I had heard of but never seen before, a roll of 127. My French friend didn’t have any further information; he didn’t remember which cameras he found them in and obviously didn’t have a clue what was on them either. I studied the information on the backing paper, did some research and found out there were five black-and-white films and roll of colour negative. The latter also proved the trickiest: Agfa CNS hasn’t been produced for decades and hasn’t been processed for almost as long.
The black-and-white films were going to be easier: three rolls of Kodak Verichrome Pan, the 127 roll mentioned ‘Ferrania Pancro’ and then there was a roll with red backing paper with a Vafca logo and the word Impresionado – ‘exposed’ in Spanish. The little sticky label was gone, so that was all the information I had. I took an educated guess and decided to have it treated the same way as the other rolls of panchromatic film.
Developing black-and-white film is easy to do yourself, even with instant coffee and soda. I would love to give it a try some time, but these precious found film rolls didn’t seem like the right material to start with. I jumped on my bike and delivered them to the last remaining lab in Amsterdam that specializes in black-and-white: Silver Hands.
The door on one of Amsterdam’s prettiest canals was opened by Silver Hands’ owner, Wim Dingemans, and I entered a living museum: a labyrinthine basement full of enlargers, developing tanks, rinsing baths, bottles of chemicals, boxes of photographic paper, silvery strings of drying negatives and walls clad with beautiful black-and-white photographs. Not a scanner or computer in sight – if you want prints, they will be made in the darkroom and retouching is also still done by hand. Dingemans is a one hundred per cent analogue artisan.
He took a look at my rolls, confirmed my assumptions and concluded that, considering their age, they needed quite a push. “I can’t guarantee anything will be on them, of course, but leave it with me and I will do my best.” That same night I received an e-mail: “It’s nitrate-based film, highly flammable, so probably from the 1950s at latest. There’s next to nothing on three rolls, but the other two do have some photos on them. Come and pick them up.”
One of the rolls turned out empty: just the backing paper, but no film. A 620 roll of Kodak Verichrome Pan delivered a surprise: it had one picture only, of a harbour (Marseilles?) and a ro-ro ship, the Viking Drive, that was built in the year 2000. So the film roll itself was antique, but the photo wasn’t. The 127 roll was a disappointment as well: three boring pictures of a home and a garden, that also appear to have been shot recently. The first photo on the next roll – a big blurry head – was undoubtedly an accident, although it does nicely demonstrate how the imprint on the backing paper had contaminated the film, which adds to the vintage feel of the photos to follow.
Bingo! Three picture-perfect photographs of a young lady, posing happily around a lovely holiday home, presumably shot in the late 1950s or early 1960s. One also depicts a young man, probably the photographer, perhaps using a self-timer for this one. I’m particularly fond of the first photo, in which the girl poses perkily outside on the terrace, with a big smile on her face. They were obviously having some happy holidays. Although, on the third picture, it seems she’s done with the picture-taking. And so was the photographer, apparently, as the rest of the roll remained blank.
The roll with the Spanish imprint and nothing else, yielded an even better result: more carefully staged and posed pictures, but now of a young family: dad with a cap, mom in a polkadot dress and two small children in matching shorts, sandals and straw hats, again shot around a holiday home, but mainly in the woods. One also depicts a dark-haired girl, presumably the photographer of the other pictures, while one of the children is missing. He’s probably pushing the button – it’s the only photo that’s out-of-focus.
These wonderfully nostalgic pictures raise all sorts of questions: who are these people, where are they from, why are they there and how did they lose their cameras? The young couple and the parents may not even be around anymore, but the young children are now probably in their sixties. They might be really anxious to see their photos for the first time after more than half a century.
Which is why I started a search through social media. I posted the photos on Facebook and friends, acquaintances and strangers shared them abundantly. But several requests to our French and Spanish Lomography friends remained unanswered, and it didn’t really go viral, at least not beyond the Dutch borders. Yet. Do you want to help find these people? Please share this photo on Facebook or Twitter. Will you do it? Otherwise the identity of those cute kids with their straw hats will always remain a mystery.