This story starts with my grandmother giving me the tiny TONE camera with several rolls of film wrapped in tin foil. It took me a while to work up the courage to develop the rolls on class. I only had one chance, what if I messed things up and lost the images? Alas, at the end of the semester I decided that I might as well get it done.
Sinse there aren’t film canisters or sprockets for 14mm film, I had to develop it in the complete dark with my hands. I developed two at a time. In the first batch, one roll was completely black and the other… had images! In the second batch, they were also blank so I took the tinfoil off of the last two and discovered that they were unexposed. So, I ended up with 1 roll of images out of the 6.
I need to take a moment here to describe how exciting this was. The developing process is an exciting one already - discovering what you shot, and seeing if it turns out the way you expected (or at all). So developing images that are at leased 50 years old and of my family was one of the most exciting and stressful discoveries that I’ve ever made.
A bit of history on the camera. My grandmother Mamaw’s uncle Joe gave it to her after picking up overseas while he was in the military. Since these were made in Japan towards the end of WWII, it is possibly from Japan. Since the camera has been in the family for almost as long as she has, the images had a possibility of being from overseas, or from any point in time of Mamaw’s life. However, she doesn’t remember using the camera, so the latest that the images could probably be would be from my dad and aunt’s childhood.
Maybe now you can understand my excitement when I looked through the magnifying glass at the tiny film strip. The first thing that I saw that I could recognize was a bike, then a few outlines that looked kind of like people, and then a landscape or two. I didn’t know exactly was on the prints until I actually printed them on paper. This process came with the expected challenges of really old film - I needed contrast so I used a 4 filter, and they were very dense so I exposed the paper for 35 seconds at f/4. What I didn’t expect, was that the larger the images were, the harder it was to to make out what the details. This is because there wasn’t very much detail, and when the prints are smaller, it’s easier for our brain to fill in the missing details. Therefore, I found 5x5” to be the best size. Even then, it was difficult to distinguish between people and other blurry things. So I covered the people with rubber cement which allowed me to tone the rest of the image sepia.
Showing the images to Mamaw was fun. It’s safe to say that she was excited to see what the images were. However, we still don’t know who the people are. Mamaw things that one of the figures might be her grandmother, which means that these would be even older than I thought. I think that we’ll have to do a lot of looking through old family photos to figure it out.
Above are the 8 images in order. I thought that there were 10, but as it turns out the images that I thought were landscapes were actually just deterioration at the end of the rolls. I'm really happy with how they came out, and can't wait to find out who these relatives are.