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.


22 thoughts on “The curious case of the 1956 roll of Kodak Super XX

  1. I loved the timely resurrection of these images… I happen to be currently reading Denise Chong’s memoir…The Concubine’s Children which documents some very rich imagery of Vancouver’s Chinatown, including the 1950’s. I also love that Vanalogue or more explicity you, Christine, continue this faithful exploration of hidden digs that illuminate so many corners of our City’s lesser known past.

  2. I have a darkroom in Chinatown, I’d be happy to try to look at printing some of these in traditional silver gelatin printing.

    1. Hi Kevin,
      Thanks for reaching out and for your kind offer of trying to print some of these images. I’m still trying to figure out the identity of the original photographer, so I think it may be premature to start printing up the images. It has been so many years since printed anything traditionally, so if it comes to that I know I probably wouldn’t want to attempt it. But, I will definitely keep you in mind if we come to a point where some traditional prints would be nice/needed. Thanks!

  3. Wonderful. and timely for me as I have started sharing found photos as Fragments of Vancouver on Instagram. These are different as it clearly was a photographer rather than a photo company.

    1. Thanks, Wallace. I have been following your images on Instagram. I was the person who suggested they might be from James Photo Service. Where did you find this film?

    2. Thanks Wallace. I have been following Fragments of Vancouver on Instagram. I was the person who suggested that they were likely from James Photo Service.

  4. Most likely those were 5 rolls of already developed film rolled onto one spool and covered with a couple of winds of backing paper for protection many years ago. As they would been loaded for this recent development in total darkness then all they have had is a bath in developer, wash, fix and wash.

    1. Yes, you are the 2nd person to comment about this scenario. I also believe it is the most likely. As someone already commented all film feels the same in the dark and processing it 2x wouldn’t affect the film.

  5. Amazing images! My favorite is definitely the guy walking by the poultry shop! I would love a silver gelatin print of that negative at least a small print maybe 4x the size of the negative mounted in a four ply archival matt board ! It is definitely reminds me of how people like my grandparents shopped back in the good ol’ days…. I actually use large and ultra large format cameras and only use black & white sheet film! Including expired 12”x20” expired 1986 & 1990 Kodak Super XX sheet film! I have four full boxes each containing 10 sheets of film! If you ever print or have them printed let me know… Maybe use the money from the prints to go towards a charity of some sort??? Thanks for sharing!!!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the images, Ted. The poultry shop one is also one of my favourites. I’m not making prints of the images but 4 of the images are going to be used in an exhibit at the new Chinese Canadian Museum in the historic Wing Sang Building. The exhibit is called “The Paper Trail to the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act” and opens July 1, this year.
      It is so cool you have some expired Super XX film! I used to shoot 4×5 sheet film but no longer have a camera. I recently gave to a friend of mine some expired 4×5 sheet film that I had stashed away in my freezer.

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