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Forgotten Film


A few weeks ago, my phone buzzed with an intriguing message. It was my good friend Matt:

“Hey bro, I picked up this box of expired film at the market, turns out there’s a used roll in’s already been shot. Looks pretty old. Thought it might make for an interesting story to get it developed and track down the photographer. Let me know your thoughts.”

My thoughts were that this could either be a fascinating exercise as DIY detective or a complete flop, I told him I was keen to document the process and see where it leads. The film itself was 35mm Fujicolor Superia Reala 100, discontinued in 2012 with this example likely 10+ years old at our estimate. We had no idea what we would find once the film was developed; could it be a series of family holiday snaps? The long lost film of a world-famous photographer? Or perhaps more ‘intimate’ photos that would simply need to be destroyed and never spoken about again? It was time to find out.

We took the canister to Sean and Darren at Splendid to get it developed and scanned. Leaving it with the experts, Matt and I drank filter coffee and got a crash course in developing while we watched them do their thing. In 20 minutes, we had our negatives developed. Another five and Darren had scanned the entire strip of 36 frames, tweaked and edited for the clearest result.

Clockwise from top left: The film leaves the developing machine attached to a plastic 'header' card; Darren hangs the developed filmstrip in preparation for scanning; It's important to wear soft cotton gloves to protect the cellulose from natural oils in your skin; After scanning, the film is cut into short strips and packaged for final inspection.

Eagerly, we huddled around the screen to see what we were dealing with; we’d need a face or a signpost, or some other context to have any hope of tracking down the photographer. We got lucky. Several shots of teenagers posing cooly for the camera; recognisable landscapes from the Top of the South; and the best exposition of all—two white vans emblazoned with signage reading “Waimea College”.

Coincidentally, Matt and I are both Waimea alumni, and while we didn’t recognise any of the students in the photos we still have a few contacts at the school. It was a starting point.

At the time of print we’d made some progress. An old teacher of ours recognised the driver of the van and estimates the photos were taken around 2005/6 (we were pretty new to the school at that time). Some further enquiries have been made to try and identify the photographer, possibly a parental chaperone or one of the students. The photos themselves aren’t half bad, pretty standard holiday point-and-shoot snaps with a couple of well-framed landscapes in there. Hard to tell if they would have sentimental value or not, but the plan is to hopefully pass on the scans to the rightful owner eventually.

We’ve included some of the photos here, excluding any of the students for privacy. Special thanks to Matt Barnes for approaching us with this story and to the team at Splendid for the quick service and lesson in developing colour film.

A selection of the images that we developed as part of our investigation, shot on a roll of 35mm Fujicolor Superia Reala 100 likely to be at least ten years old.

Do you think you recognise any of the photos in this series? We’d love to hear from you so we can continue to try and find the original photographer. Email us with any information, insight or ideas to assist our search.

Photos taken at Splendid of the developing process by Matt Barnes.

Zack HolmesComment