I found an estate sale full of cameras quite by accident a few years ago. They belonged to a man named Gerald Shepardson, who lived in Stillwater and was quite a camera collector and photographer. I bought some cameras and lenses, and ended up getting a sweet deal on some old film. The box contained some exposed film as well.
Recently, having finally had the time and motivation (and being too sick with this awful cold/virus/flu thing to go out and fall off my dirt bike on the ice), I set up my darkroom in the new house. It isn’t perfect, but it’s serviceable. In need of some film to develop, I scoured the fridge, and looked in the many old cameras I have lying around. A Canon Rebel 2000 yielded an underexposed role of Pan F plus (50 iso, looks like it was exposed at around 400 iso for most of the roll), and the fridge surrendered a ziploc baggie full of film from the estate sale. I figured now it was time to figure out what was on all those rolls of exposed film. I was intrigued because there were 5 rolls of 120 film and a couple of cans of 35mm, so I made the room dark and got to work.
First roll of 120: Nada. No film. Just the paper backing tape rolled around the spool and secured with scotch tape. Damn.
Second: same. Damn…and so on.
“Well, let’s see what the 35mm has to offer,” I muttered to myself. I am talking to inanimate objects and myself more these days. Talking to yourself is a sign of impending mental collapse, according to the old HHGTG infocom game. Either that, or I’m really fond of my old tractor.
At this point, I wasn’t very optimistic. The metal on the cans was pretty rusty, indicating that the film (if there was any) had seen a significant amount of moisture during its life. The first roll gave up what didn’t even feel like film at first. It felt a bit like not-very-sticky packing tape, but I managed to get it unrolled and put on the spool and in the can. Setting it soaking in some 68-degree water, I again flipped the lights off and started to investigate the last can of 35mm. Nothing. Empty.
“Oh well,” I thought to myself, “at least there’s one roll of actual film. I just hope it’s been exposed.” The writing on the cans was mostly illegible, but one word was obvious: “TEST,” written on the empty can. I wondered if the test had worked, and whether the other roll would have anything on it at all. It had sounded pretty crunchy as it was letting go of decades of rolled-upedness . Doubts aplenty.
After a 10 minute soak, for no real reason other than that it sounded like a good idea at the time (also, I needed an excuse to go make a cup of tea. I am English, after all.) I proceeded to mix up a batch of HC110 dilution B (1:31) at 68 degrees eff. Pouring the developer in, I figured I’d just develop it “a good long time, like 15 minutes or so, with constant agitation.” Normally, developing film is a pretty scientific process based on the recommendations of the film manufacturer. Nowadays, the Internet has revolutionized the sharing of information around film, so in many ways the accessibility and ease of home developing has never been higher. The Massive Dev Chart contains pretty much anything you’d want to know about developing anything with anything, and it now comes in an iPhone app (with a convenient timer and, get this, a display mode that makes your iPhone safe to use in a darkroom without fogging your film. How cool is that?) For this, though, I didn’t have much to go by. I didn’t know what kind of film it was, how it had been exposed, or anything. I seemed to remember using 8 minutes for my previous experiment with found film, and finding that a bit underdeveloped. Further research indicated that you should develop longer for older film. With typical development times being between 4 and 8 minutes, I figured a factor of 2-3 would be a good bet.
So 15 minutes it was, and 15 minutes it took. Stop, fix, wash, and soon I was looking at a roll of film that could be 20, 30, 40 years old:
I carefully hung it up in my film drying cabinet (actually a zip up clothes hanger closet thingy I got from Wal-Mart) on specially-designed film holders (actually wooden pants hangers also from Wal-Mart), I decided to do some printing. I hadn’t done prints in 2 years or so, and had given up because I couldn’t hold the very large spiders at bay long enough in the basement to do a good job. One had actually dropped onto my head while I was developing a print, and that had pretty much ended it for me in that basement. I don’t squick easy, but that took me past wanting to be down there a whole bunch. The new house is much nicer than the old in that regard.
Today, I rearranged the office enough to get my scanner hooked up, and scanned the negatives. Results are mixed- judge for yourself. Much is unusable, but there’s enough image there to make for a cool effect that says a lot about the ravages of time. Captured images peek through the areas where time and moisture have conspired to erase them. Here’s my favorite:
On the whole, I’m happy with how everything turned out. I got usable images against some pretty steep odds (like not having any film at all.) I could have wished for something with a little more human interest, or maybe some identifiable cars or something that would help pin down the date the pictures were taken. About all I can tell is that the roll was shot in winter, and that they had a lot of snow that year. But they are cool. Not as Gerald probably originally intended them, but interesting nonetheless.
There are two more rolls of 120 color print film in the fridge. I think I’ll unroll them in the darkroom to see if they actually contain film. At this point, I’m not going to hope for much.