I consider myself lucky as I have been a photographer and surrounded by photography for pretty much my entire life. As a second-generation photographer, camera builder and tinker-er, I’ve learned the time-honored craft of hacksawing two cameras in half from my father, who also regularly hacked cameras in the name of art and curiosity.
As people around you learn about this practice, you begin to accumulate unused and broken cameras that are no longer being used. Occasionally, a roll of wayward film materializes. When it does, I generally toss it in my doublewide milk crate (oddly, these only seem to be available in California…) full of chemistry, processing tanks and reels for another day (or year….).
Like most of the orphaned film that crosses my path, I don’t think much about it. This was the case with a particular roll of bulk loaded film that I recently loaded onto a reel and developer when I had an odd number of reels in a tank
What it turned out to be was nothing short of amazing. The roll told the story of a field trip from a school to New York’s China town and back to school again. I’m assuming it was a student shooting the pictures as the roll starts with a couple shots of mom making breakfast.
Next are shots in a classroom with neatly dressed students talking to one another.
There are a couple of shots on the bus before the bulk of pictures in Chinatown. Everyone must have been tired on the way home as there were no bus ride home pictures, but our story ends with two shots of a girl smiling for the camera back in what appears to be the classroom where they started out.
There are several telling images on the bus where we learn the camera (and photographer) are better than a mid 1960’s instamatic. The photographer is clearly able to focus on specific individuals faces with a shallow depth of field. Mid 60’s instamatic style cameras were fixed focus. While sitting idle for 25 years fogged the entire roll of film, the exposures are consistent through a wide range of environments.
In addition to this camera, we see students with another 35mm camera, two of what look like Brownie ‘bakelite’ cameras. I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I think there is an Argoflex being held by its strap in one of the shots. In several of the street shots, the photographer departed the group to photograph the rest of the class on the sidewalk. It is in one of these shots where it looks like a teacher is holding what (I’m pretty sure) is a Polaroid Model 20 ‘Swinger’ under his left arm. You can’t see enough of what is in the student’s hands to really tell, but it looks like he might be loading a 35mm camera. I’m confident on the Polaroid Swinger though, which helps to put a time to the trip, as that camera didn’t come out until 1965.
After Googling the sign “Chinatown Sea Food House, Formally Ye Limehouse,” I found a series of images that fashion photographer David Bailey made of his model and girlfriend, Jean Shrimpton, in 1962. If you search ‘David Bailey Jean Shrimpton 1962’ and you will find his image of her standing under the same sign the students are under.
I’d love to learn more about this school group, what was the true destination of the trip, and who they are. I was disappointed there weren’t any clues in the classroom or on the bus that might help figure out what school the students were from. I’m thinking the students are of early high school age and using the Polaroid as a ‘time stamp’ the trip happened around or after 1965 which would put the students around 70 years old today.
One thing is for sure, after finding this story in 17 frames I won’t let any ‘mystery film’ sit in the bottom of my milk crate for years without seeing if it contains another cool time capsule! Any help to figure out who the students are, or anyone you can share this with would be fantastic.