The curious case of the 1956 roll of Kodak Super XX – Part 2

Last September, I wrote a post about a roll of unprocessed Kodak Super XX 120 film (which turned out to be 5 rolls) that I developed – 62 years after it was shot. You can read all about what I now refer to as the “miracle of the 5 rolls” here.

The skillfully shot photographs that emerged depict Vancouver’s Chinatown and False Creek in April of 1956. As I mentioned in Part 1,  there was a name included on the wrapper that I thought may have been the name of the shooter, but I needed to investigate all possible leads in order to determine who shot these wonderful images and to figure out why the films weren’t processed back in 1956.

If you aren’t aware of the story thus far, I strongly recommend you take to the time to get up to speed before continuing with this post.

Men’s public convenience at Main and Hastings, 1956 (cropped). Photo: Photographer unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.

After finishing my investigation the mystery the photographer behind these images has been solved! Well, sort of.

From 2006 to 2013, I worked at CBC Vancouver as a Media Librarian in the English Television Archives.  While I was there, I saved an exposed but unprocessed roll of film from being tossed out.  The roll was in a box of odds n’ sods (unexposed film rolls, take-up reels, and other related non-photographic material) kept with CBC staff photographer Alvin Armstrong’s collection of still photographs – negatives, positives, prints, and mounted enlargements. Armstong was the in-house still photographer at CBUT from April 1, 1954, to April 3, 1973. During his 19 year career, he took about 10,000 photographs (negatives & transparencies); all of which were shot on either 4×5 sheet film or 35mm roll film.

 

Paper wrapper found around the roll of film(s). Photo: C. Hagemoen

 

The unprocessed 120 roll film was wrapped in a paper label with “Ron Kelly in Chinatown in April 1956” written on it. Since I was intimately familiar with Alvin Armstrong’s work I immediately recognized his distinctive handwriting on the label. Was this film shot by Armstrong but never developed?

 

It was possible but seemed out of character with what I knew about Armstrong and the way he worked. He kept meticulous records and this film was not recorded in his logbook. It was also 120 medium format film – he didn’t shoot medium format film for CBC. Also, the fact that is was kept separate from his collection was also a red-flag, but I added him to the list of people that were possibly responsible for these images.

 

What about the name on the wrapper? Ron Kelly was a producer/director at CBC Vancouver in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1956, he produced and directed a CBC Vancouver film unit program that was set in Chinatown called ‘Summer Afternoon’.  It is a fantastic visual document of mid-century Chinatown. [More about ‘Summer Afternoon’ at the end of this post.] It is very likely these shots were intended to be used as location scouting shots for ‘Summer Afternoon’ and the exposed film was given to Alvin Armstrong for safekeeping. But they were never used as such, or even processed for that matter! Why? So, Ron Kelly was also added to the list of potential photographers.

 

My former colleague and (now retired) Senior Media Librarian at the CBC Archives, Colin Preston, suggested a third possibility – Jack Long, the cinematographer for ‘Summer Afternoon’. It would make sense that he would be the one to take scouting shots for this production. Sadly Jack Long, now deceased, would not be able to provide any insight into this mystery, so we would have to rely on the memories of others.
 
One telling image shows the photographer reflected in the window of a boat that he is taking a photo of.  We can’t see the face of the person, but you can see his hairline and that he is wearing a trench coat (neither very distinctive). It also looks like he is using a Leica-style or folding medium format film camera.

 

The photographer is reflected in this image (detail). Photo: Photographer unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.
Since his name was on the wrapper, making him the obvious person responsible, I started my search with Ron Kelly.  It took a little digging, but I was able to obtain his landline phone number as, at 90 years old and living in small-town Ontario, Ron Kelly did not use email or social media.  Colin Preston made the cold call since he was more familiar with Kelly’s work at CBC. He told Ron Kelly the story of the photographs and that we believed that they were associated somehow with the production of ‘Summer Afternoon’. During their conversation, Ron Kelly revealed that he was not the photographer and that he was quite sure Jack Long wasn’t either.

 

Ron Kelly was generous enough to provide his mailing address so that I could send him a hard-copy of my original post and prints of some of the photographs including the image of the photographer above. This way he could review the material in case it might jog a long lost memory and to see if he recognized the person in the reflection.

 

Several weeks passed when out of the blue I got a telephone call from Castleton, Ontario, it was Ron Kelly. We had a nice chat during which he confirmed that he did not take these photographs and neither did Jack Long. He explained that Long was a very short man, only 5’3″, and he didn’t physically match the photographer in refection. He wished me luck on my search.

 

So then we were back to CBC staff photographer, Alvin Armstrong now the primary (only) candidate.  He died in 1989, but I had contact information for his son, Arthur, who I had first met in 2012  at the launch of the  VHF The WALL outdoor installation I curated that featured one of his father’s photographs.
In my email, to Arthur, I gave him the background to the mystery and explained the reasons why I had doubts and didn’t think it was his father who shot these images.  I also asked him to take a look at the reflection image to see if he thought it was Alvin. This is what he wrote back:

 

I had a look at the photo that you sent me along with the photos on your blog. I cannot say with a certainty that the photo you sent me is my father. I am attaching a photo of Dad taken in 1956. As you can see the hairline is similar. I can also tell you he wore a long beige raincoat as did many men of that era. I recall there was a Leica camera around the house, but that was 35mm. Dad did shoot 120 film but used two Rolliflexs that he owned.

If his handwriting was on the film wrapper, he must have been given it or taken the photos. However, two things lead me to believe it was not my father. Firstly, he would never have put 5 rolls of film on one spool. Secondly, he would have cataloged it in some manner. Neither of these actions fit with his personality.

I am sorry to add to the mystery of these photos and hope you get it sorted out. Please keep me posted! Thanks for keeping the memory of old Vancouver alive.

 

I had to agree with Arthur on his perception of the situation. Though he thought there was a possibility that the man reflected could be his father, the other evidence does not fit with Alvin’s photographic practice. For some reason, Armstong was the caretaker for this film, but we both believed he was not the shooter.

Having run out of possible candidates, the mystery of who is responsible for these images is “solved” in that we have come to the end of the investigation. Therefore, unless new evidence appears (highly unlikely due to how much time has passed) all we know is (with some certainty) who isn’t responsible (Armstrong, Kelly, or Long) for these fabulous documentary images.

Every time I look at the images I am glad that my curiosity didn’t allow this collection to be lost forever. If you ever find an old roll of exposed film I urge you to take the time and expense to get it developed, you never know what exposing the latent image could reveal.

In the meantime, let’s enjoy some more of these images:

Men reading newspaper. Photo: Photographer unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.

 

Girl in by entrance to Ho Sun Hing Co. Printing on E. Pender Street. Photo: Photographer unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.

 

Double exposure False Creek. Photo: Photographer unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.
House boats/shacks on False Creek. Photo: Photographer unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.

 

I love all the black in this image. Chinatown alley 1956. Photo: Photographer unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.
More of the same theme – narrow view from an alley. Photo: Photographer unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.

[More images can be seen in Part 1 of this post]

If you haven’t seen ‘Summer Afternoon’ yet, I strongly recommend you take half an hour to do so. When you compare the visuals in the TV film with those found in the still photos found on the 5 rolls of Kodak Super XX 120 film you can clearly see that they are connected.

Columnist John Kirkwood had this to say about “Summer Afternoon’ in the August 22, 1956 edition of the Vancouver Sun: “The program skillfully produced to capture the desired mood and with a light touch of humour was, of course, a work of art, and, except for a rather too insistent musical score, was an outstanding show”.

The Province Newpaper’s TV critic, Les Wedman, was more critical about the program.  Here is his review from August 21, 1956:

I think the passage of time has improved the overall impression of “Summer Afternoon” as we view it with a nostalgic lens.  I’ll let you be the judge…

Pacific 13  – Summer Afternoon,  air date: 1956-08-20, length: 28:25
“Presented without commentary, this exploration of Vancouver’s Chinatown follows the wanderings of two young boys at play in and around the shops, streets, and False Creek waterfront.”
Credits:
PD/DIR- Ron Kelly
PH- Jack Long
ED- Stanley Fox
MUSIC- Ed Baravalle [John Avison, conductor]
CAST- Andrew Mar, Chipper Mah

Local History Advent Calendar 2018 – Day 22 – Junior TV Club

When I am researching one topic I often come across random historical tidbits that I think might be interesting to research one day.  These tidbits sometimes end up as full-fledged stories and sometimes they just stay as random historical tidbits.  I have collected quite a few, so I thought it might be fun to present them in the form of “treats” for a local history advent calendar. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder – 24 facts about Vancouver history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.

Day 22: Harvey Lowe and Avril (Kim) Campbell on Junior TV Club…

1950 Harvey Lowe, yo-yo expert, VPL 81284; Artray Studio.

Junior Television Club was a magazine format program for children produced out of Vancouver and broadcast on CBUT (CBC Vancouver) in the late 1950s.  The show had five child hosts each with their own specialty. One of the hosts was Avril Campbell (Kim Campbell) future Prime Minister of Canada (Canada’s 19th PM)! Hosts of the Jr TV Club would often interview famous people in the community – like local hero and yo-yo champion Harvey Lowe!

 

 

 

Local History Advent Calendar 2018 – Day 20 – Langston Hughes

When I am researching one topic I often come across random historical tidbits that I think might be interesting to research one day.  These tidbits sometimes end up as full-fledged stories and sometimes they just stay as random historical tidbits.  I have collected quite a few, so I thought it might be fun to present them in the form of “treats” for a local history advent calendar. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder – 24 facts about Vancouver history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.

Day 20: Sixty years ago this month Langston Hughes came to town…

Still of Langston Hughes appearing on the CBUT programme The 7 O’Clock Show, 1958.

Poet, novelist and playwright Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was in Vancouver 60 years ago this month. He was a guest of lecturer Jacob Zilber of UBC’s English Department who invited Hughes to speak at the university. Later that same day Hughes appeared as a guest on the CBUT (CBC Vancouver) programme The 7 O’Clock Show where he recited his famous poem, The Weary Blues (1925), to a jazz accompaniment.

In a December 3, 1958, Vancouver Sun interview, held at Jacob Zilber’s kitchen table, Hughes explained to the local press that he was “a professional writer. I write for money, I don’t make a lot. I make less than a school teacher, less than a plumber. I have no house. No car, no dog. I have nothing but books.” In fact, Hughes was the first black writer in America to earn his living from writing. Talking about his writing, Hughes said “I write emotionally, from my feelings. I let my characters say something and then I go back and see what they’ve said.

This film clip shows African-American poet, Langston Hughes reciting his poem, “The Weary Blues” (1925) to jazz accompaniment by the Doug Parker Band (feat. Fraser MacPherson, Stan “Cuddles” Johnson) on the live CBUT (CBC Vancouver) program “The 7 O’Clock Show” in 1958. Host, Bob Quintrell introduces the performance.

Local History Advent Calendar 2018 – Day 16 – CBUT is on the air

When I am researching one topic I often come across random historical tidbits that I think might be interesting to research one day.  These tidbits sometimes end up as full-fledged stories and sometimes they just stay as random historical tidbits.  I have collected quite a few, so I thought it might be fun to present them in the form of “treats” for a local history advent calendar. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder – 24 facts about Vancouver history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.

Day 16: 65 years ago today, CBC-TV in Vancouver first started broadcasting…

CBUT, Channel 2, Vancouver, officially began programming at 6.00 p.m., Wednesday, December 16th,1953 when a button pressed by A. Davidson Dunton, chairman of the CBC Board of Governors, set the inaugural transmission into motion. Prior to CBUT, the only television stations available to lower mainland residents originated from Washington State – KING Channel 5 in Seattle and KVOS Channel 12 in Bellingham. Another Seattle based TV station, KOMO Channel 4 began operation 6 days prior to CBUT on December 10, 1953.

Newspaper print ad for the CBUT opening.

This Vancouver station was the fourth CBC-TV station in Canada and the first in Western Canada. The plan for CBUT included studio and production facilities downtown (in a converted Packard dealership), a few blocks from the existing radio (CBU) studios in the Hotel Vancouver and a transmitter on Mount Seymour.

Several special programs marked the initial transmission of the station on Wednesday, December 16th, at 6.00 p.m. They consisted pre-taped (filmed) special greetings to the new station and entertainment programs that featured many “Vancouverites”.

Rear slide projection graphic image for CBUT.

In 2013, wrote a series of vanalogue posts commemorating the 60th Anniversary of CBUT television (CBC-TV) in Vancouver and British Columbia. I invite you to check them out if you want to learn more about local early television. You can look at them here: Part 1 – CBUT on the Air, Part 2 – All that Jazz, Part 3 – 1954 Commonweath Games, & Part 4 – Drama from the Left Coast

The following video shows excerpts of the opening comments from the first broadcast for CBUT (CBC-TV Vancouver) on December, 16th 1953. Also, excerpts from the 1960 CBUT program “Image of CBUT” showing some of the behind the scenes of early TV production. “Image of CBUT” was produced to promote CBUT to potential advertising clients.

Vancouver Impressions

Film Screening – Vancouver Impressions (The early 1960s) – A programme of archival films produced by CBUT (CBC Vancouver) between 1961 and 1965.

There has been a lot of talk recently about the CBC’s (English Services) Mass Digitization Project and their plan to trash all the original analogue media (16mm film, tape, transcription disc, etc.) once digitized.  Their reasoning behind this plan is that they will no longer need the original artefact once it is digitized, so why pay for the storage of this material? In their minds digitization equals preservation – end of story.

This is the height of hubris – CBC [mis]management are so confident in their digitization process that they aren’t even going to consider that anything could ever go wrong in the future, so they do not need to keep the analogue original?  Nor, it seems, do they need to take into consideration that this “plan” is against all archival best practices for digitization. They don’t even appear to be willing to discuss the possibility of working with an outside archival repository to see if a mutually beneficial agreement could be made – like the recent agreement between PNG and the CoV Archives for the Sun & Province newspaper photographs.

CBUT Station ID photo featuring the lights of Granville Street. Photo: Alvin Armstrong.

Sadly, the destruction of original formats is only the tip of the iceberg in this story. The inside scoop is that the selection process is also flawed, namely that much archival material that won’t even make it to the digitization stage of the project. The CBC is only interested in digitizing (saleable) complete programs and not interested in program inserts, individual news items, stox footage, etc.  This means the loss of much of Metro Vancouver’s and the Province’s audio-visual history. Check out my CBUT (CBC Vancouver) posts from a few years ago to see what kind of history could be lost forever: 60th Anniversary of CBUT part 1; Part 2 –All That Jazz ; Part 3 –  1954 British Empire & Commonwealth Games; and Part 4 – Drama from the left coast.

Continue reading “Vancouver Impressions”

Eleanor Collins: Vancouver’s First Lady of Jazz

Several years ago I worked in the CBC Vancouver Media Archives on a film preservation project. The content introduced me to much of Vancouver’s moving image history as well as the artists and technicians who created that legacy. One of the most fascinating artists to catch my eye and ear was Eleanor Collins.

Publicity portrait of Eleanor Collins. Photo: Franz Lindner, CBC Vancouver Photo Collection
Publicity portrait of Eleanor Collins. Photo: Franz Lindner, CBC Vancouver Photo Collection

My fascination with this amazing woman all started with a single photograph (see above) from the CBC Vancouver Still Photograph Collection. I was mesmerized by her radiance. As a jazz fan, I had to find out more about this performer. Viewing some of her television work from the 50’s & 60’s, I was enthralled by her luminous appearance, her sultry sound, and her magnetic screen presence. But, there is so much more to this fascinating woman… Continue reading “Eleanor Collins: Vancouver’s First Lady of Jazz”

60th anniversary of CBUT, Part 4 – Drama from the left coast

On this 4th and final installment celebrating the 60th anniversary of CBUT, we take a dramatic turn and look at a few interesting stories in the “long and honourable” history of television drama on CBUT (CBC Vancouver).

The recent series of CBC cutbacks and layoffs announced by CBC-SRC’s dispassionate president, Hubert Lacroix, were essentially the fatal blow at the end of a long slow death for all original (non-news) programming on CBC TV. There was a time (long, long ago) however, when the CBC was at the forefront of original programming.

Many Canadians (especially those of a certain age) will be familiar with the history of CBC-TVs documentary and music programming, however many may be unfamiliar with the history of its dramatic programming.

Production still from the set of Spectrum's - Some Days You Have To Hit Somebody (1958).
Production still from the set of Spectrum’s – Some Days You Have To Hit Somebody (1958). Photo: Alvin Armstrong, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection.

Like much programming on the CBC, drama had its start on CBC’s radio service.  In it’s early years, CBC radio’s national and regional drama series featured the best of both domestic and international drama. This dramatic tradition continued on the small screen when CBC started its television service. Continue reading “60th anniversary of CBUT, Part 4 – Drama from the left coast”