Found Photos

Found Photos – The Field Trip – 17 Never-Before Seen Images from the Mid 1960s – By Dirk Fletcher

October 4, 2020

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.

Thanks for reading, check out my pictures from Chicago and the World on Instagram and my website and images of my custom built cameras are here on Flickr.

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7 Comments

  • Reply
    ian simpson
    October 4, 2020 at 10:27 am

    What a great story and set of images. I really hope you find out some more about these guys. Thanks for posting.

  • Reply
    Ken Rowin
    October 4, 2020 at 1:50 pm

    What a find! A pity that you can’t identify who they are or what school they were from. The mom in the first picture would be about 100. Hope she is still with us and making breakfast every day.

  • Reply
    Daniel Castelli
    October 4, 2020 at 1:52 pm

    Wow,
    Truly an unearthed time capsule.
    Pics around our house (now in old, smelly cardboard boxes) seem to validate your guess at the time period. My older brothers had the same hair cuts and jackets. The girl’s hair styles and dresses may put it around 1965-66.
    I’ve had the privilege to assist Viet Nam era veterans as they continue to struggle from their experiences ‘in country.’ Many have never left the war.
    I can’t help but think how many of these young men & women went through the meat grinder of Viet Nam. Who died, who came back with physical injuries or PTSD and how many still try and cope with devils in their heads. How many families suffered; how many widows?
    Let’s not forget that this same fate was repeated in the homes of the Vietnamese.
    This is like looking at pics from the Warsaw Ghetto before Poland was invaded in 1939. But, this is our generation, our history.
    The whole posting made me depressed. Sorry.

  • Reply
    Patrick
    October 4, 2020 at 11:58 pm

    Incredible find, and what fantastic photos! As you say, far more than just snapshots – this photographer knew what he or she was doing. This post did not leave me feeling depressed – rather elated – to see these vivid images from another time and place.

    I would love to see the other 10 frames.

    And also, I hope someone in this story emerges from the woodwork and sheds some light!

  • Reply
    Scott
    October 5, 2020 at 6:29 am

    Yes, they look to be around 16, and the fact that they’re wearing jackets and ties for a school trip places it as not later than 1966; probably a little earlier. That was me. In the US, in 1967, like flipping a switch, the jackets and ties would disappear forever.
    And yes, in a few years the young men will be going to Viet Nam, or trying to figure how not to.
    These are pictures of the end of an era; nothing would ever be the same again.

  • Reply
    Chris Pattison
    October 5, 2020 at 3:37 pm

    Wonderful.

  • Reply
    Sciolist
    October 8, 2020 at 4:54 pm

    “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.”

    This assignment was for Vogue and broke so many rules of fashion photography, fashion photography, and the photographers involved were never the same again. A movie called ‘We’ll take Manhattan’ was made about it. Now very iconic shots, I wouldn’t be surprised if the street is a place of pilgrimage for some.

    Good story, man. Thanks.

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