Discovering History in an 80 Year Old Camera-My Photographic Treasure Hunt

Come with me as I fall into my own personal photographic treasure hunt

Photographic Treasure Hunt - Finding film in an 80 year old camera

In my mom’s home office, there has been a really old camera sitting on her bookshelf since I can remember. No one ever touched it. I don’t remember a time where it has ever moved. When we moved back to the states this past summer, we stayed with my parents for a week or so. I have no idea what i was doing but one morning it caught my eye. When I ask my mom if I could have it (cheeky, I know) and she told me it was dad’s. So, off to look for dad I go!

Now he’s in his usual spot and when I asked him he immediately said no. My balloon may have been a little deflated but it really wasn’t a huge let down. Especially when my mother told me that it belonged to my dad’s father. It made a lot more sense. We don’t have a lot of pictures of him hanging around the house. He passed away when my father was really young, so it’s not someone we really heard much about growing up. But I found it cool that for all these years we had kept a little piece of him, in the form of a camera sitting on the shelf. My dad gave me that camera right before we left for our new home.

Fast forward a few months and I was skyping with my fabulous friend Andy, who owns Andy Dane Photography, back in England. We were chatting about old cameras and I pulled my little Kodak off the shelf to show him. I want to treat the leather and fix the bellows on it so it will close again. As I was turning it for the camera, I said to him “I don’t even know how to open this thing”, and right then, found the slide release and the back popped open and oh my WHAT!? There’s film in there!!! and immediately close it back as fast as I could. Right then and there I started my hunt for a studio with a darkroom in it. So my personal photographic treasure hunt begins. 

It didn’t take me too much time to discover a photography studio that had a darkroom. It is a bit of a drive from me, but I figure this is well worth it! I went to PRINT Wednesday and met with owners John and Kyoto. It’s a charming shop in a part of Newport News called Hilton Village, a historic village modeled after a British village (so right up my aisle). John and I spent the better part of 4 hours in the darkroom with the film that has been in my Kodak SIX-16 camera for who knows how long.


We spent some time trying to get the film out of the camera, in the pitch black, as some how part of it got caught up in the bellows (the accordion). Then trying to find a spool that the film would fit on, trying to figure out the appropriate developing time and so on and so forth and we came out with this.

Are you freaking out right now? Because I sure am! Very clearly plain as day you can make out a shirt and bowtie. and there is a man. We have a man! Looking a little more closer there looks to be a set of stairs or a building! I am completely nerding out. Could this be a picture of my grandfather that my family has never seen?? Looking closer at the film, we can see on a separate shot there is another face, and a hand on another, and where the film is a bit torn, we make out a picket fence, a building and what looks to be a nun! (Who may just be my 82 year old cousin!)

Photographic Treasure Hunt - Grandfathers 80 year old camera came with film in it Film negative of Nun in front of church found in 80 year old camera

Now admittedly I get easily excited. So when John and I put the negatives under the light to expose the film onto paper my little excite-o-meter skyrocketed! The fact that this film – this picture – is possibly 50, 60 maybe even 70 years old is incredible. Add on that I ACTUALLY OPENED the back of the camera with the film still in it blows my mind.

 

We focus of the picture of the young boy. When we develop the first shot, I was moved, almost to a point of tears when the picture appears on the paper. We did a little split toning with high and low contrast lenses in the next few exposures.  Adjusting our exposure time a bit, In the end, gave us a beautiful image of a young man who resembles a young Elvis. It could be my grandfather – or maybe one of his brothers, however I really don’t know. I could have spent several more hours just playing around with the images, but the day is getting long and I need to get back to my home. I thank John and get my things together to make the trip back across the tunnel. Before I pull out of the lot, I send I picture to my dad to ask him about it!

I can’t contain my excitement. So I call right away and Dad gets the picture while Im on the phone with him, and I ask him – who is that? Is that your dad? Or his brothers? *Remember, I don’t have a lot of visual images of my grandfather so I don’t have the best visual of what he looks like. Dad laughs and says you know what that is??? Thats not my dad, that Jackie Garry – he lived above us. Enter confusion…”Why would you have a picture of the boy who lived above you – in a tux?” To which he replied – “He took Ann to her prom!” Ann is his sister, my aunt.

So now I know who this mystery man is. It’s not my grandfather, which is somewhat disappointing…but he is somebody’s grandfather, and maybe with some help we unite this picture with his family. I’m sure that will be a long road, but it will be worth having a go at it! What an exciting photographic treasure hunt I’ve been on though! 

This week I plan to go to Norfolk to a studio that scans negatives from film and is able to get more detail of the images from the scan. I am hoping to see if I can get a picture of the woman, as well as the nun! I will post an update as soon as it happens!

There is no way I could be more grateful to John and Kyoto at Print for allowing me to intrude on their shop and spend their afternoon on this little adventure with me. Did I tell you that he has film that works with my camera! I have to seal a light leak, but I’m excited to use it and see if and how well it works! I am excited to visit Print again in the future! If you are into film photography – they have workshops fairly often and are so helpful!

If you didn’t see my original posting about my camera have a quick read here! Take a quick second to like my page to follow along on the adventure! https://www.facebook.com/meredithhodgephotography/photos/a.184472771947839/710798339315277/?type=3&theater)

Have you ever been on your own personal photographic treasure hunt?  I’d love to hear about it below!  

Do you like what I write? I have so much more to say! 

  1. Binnie Grant

    January 17th, 2019 at 6:32 am

    What a wonderful blog Meredith! Reminds me how important photographs are to us. Hope you manage to re-unite the photo with the family it belongs to. Look forward to hearing an update! B x (Belinda Grant Photography)

  2. Meredith Hodge

    January 18th, 2019 at 3:15 pm

    Thank you so much Binnie! It brought me back to my college days when I used to develop film! I cannot wait to send these to my aunt and my cousin for them to see! Xx

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