The curious case of the 1956 roll of Kodak Super XX

When I took my roll of previously exposed film from 1956 in for processing at The Lab early last year, I wasn’t expecting much.  First, it had been 62 years since the film was exposed – I was convinced the “statute of latent image limitations” had passed for this roll. Second, it was stored at room temperature the whole time. And third, the roll was wound so loosely, I was convinced it was most likely completely fogged.

When I went in to collect the film  (plus some other film I dropped off) at the appointed time, it was not ready. In fact, they couldn’t quite determine its exact location. Not only was I worried that something had gone wrong, but I was also a little peeved that I would have to make a second trip to pick it up.  So, imagine my surprise when I got a phone call from the folks at The Lab later that day telling me that there was not one roll of film, but 5 rolls of exposed film wound onto the single spool!  Even though they never said it directly, the tone used on the phone indicated that there may have been something on the film ( x 5).

And there was…

Negatives on light table at The Lab. The film is a little brittle and sadly the last image on the last roll lost a corner during processing.  Photo: C. Hagemoen

For film that was older than me… these negs looked really, really good! How was this even possible?  I saw the paper backing on the film when I delivered it to the photo lab, so I know it hadn’t been processed yet. But, I still don’t understand how (or why) multiple rolls of exposed film were wound around a single spool, and none of it was fogged?  A mystery for sure.

The film was Kodak Super XX. This film was Kodak’s standard high-speed film from 1940 until it was discontinued (in roll format) in 1960.  It was replaced by Kodak Tri-X. It could be partially due to its age, but the contrast of this film is really good. Just the way I like it.

When I first came across the film over 10 years ago it was headed for the bin. I suppose to the uninformed eye this roll of old, unexposed film did not look viable. The roll was wrapped in a paper cover with “Chinatown April 1956” written on it. I was intrigued. Since the film was being discarded,  I decided to rescue it. I thought it might be interesting to see if there was anything on the roll after all those years.  In my mind, it was worth a try.  A photo experiment of sorts.  I stored the roll in a drawer for several years, even moved house with it, before I decided to finally take a chance and process the film.  I’m glad I did.

CHinatown56-16 1
Group of children on street in Chinatown. I love this image, not only are the children (now senior citizens) adorable, but it shows the once prevalent sidewalk prisms and old wood street paving blocks exposed through the asphalt. Photo: Photographer currently unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.

What a find! These photos depict Chinatown and False Creek ca. 1956,  an area of Vancouver that looks very different today. They are also clearly shot by someone who knew what they were doing. There was a name included on the wrapper. This may be the name of the shooter, but it is hard to tell at the moment. More investigation will be required to determine who shot these wonderful images and to figure out why the films weren’t processed back in 1956.

This image captures the yet unknown photographer. Photo: Photographer currently unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.

In the meantime, I scanned a few of the negatives…

Man shopping in Chinatown. Photo: Photographer currently unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.
400 Block Carrall Street. Photo: Photographer currently unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.
Man walking by poultry shop. Photo: Photographer currently unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.
Rooftops. Photo: Photographer currently unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.


*I first published this post on my (now stagnant) Expired Film Project blog in early 2018. I thought it was worth another kick at the can. I’m still working on figuring out the identity of the photographer, but I have a lead that I am following.  Please see the 2020 Part 2 of this post here.