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

Sidewalk prisms of Vancouver

[This post has been updated since it was first published in 2016]

I was a shy child. Consequently, I spent a lot of time avoiding eye contact by looking down at the ground. All this time looking down at my feet allowed me to regard the ground upon which I was walking. Thus it was as a Vancouver kid of the 1970s that I first noticed the glassy purple squares embedded in sidewalks.

Have you ever been walking in an older part of the city and noticed a checkerboard grid of purple squares under your feet?

Sidewalk prism light mosaic. Photos: C. Hagemoen
Sidewalk prism lights mosaic. Photos: C. Hagemoen

No, they are not simply sidewalk decoration [wouldn’t that be nice?] but rather a system to illuminate spaces under sidewalks called areaways. Sidewalk prisms, also known as vault lights (or pavement lights in the UK), are glass prisms set into sidewalks in order to reflect the natural light from above, safely illuminating these subterranean spaces. [Why are they purple? The answer to that is at the end of the post].

Continue reading “Sidewalk prisms of Vancouver”

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.

Chinatown-52a
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…

Chinatown56_1
Man shopping in Chinatown. Photo: Photographer currently unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.
Chinatown56_3
400 Block Carrall Street. Photo: Photographer currently unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.
CHinatown56-1
Man walking by poultry shop. Photo: Photographer currently unknown, C. Hagemoen personal collection.
CHinatown56-31a
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.

 

Local History Advent Calendar 2018 – Day 18 – Jennie Wong

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 18: Vancouver’s Jennie Wong was the first female and first Chinese-Canadian disc jockey in Canada…

Teen Town Talk column in The Vancouver Sun, May 1948.

In 1948 Jennie Wong was one of three finalists in the CKWX-Teen Aid Disc Jockey Contest. The contest was co-sponsored by The Vancouver Sun’s Teen Town Association where Jennie was an active member of the Chinese Y Canteen. Each of the three finalists had their audition tapes sent to a panel of judges consisting of Freddie Robbins, a New York City disc jockey, crooner Frank Sinatra, and orchestra leader Claude Thornhill.  Though she was ranked #3, Jennie was given a half-hour Saturday afternoon program on CKMO that she called “Jennie’s Juke Joint”. On her program, Jennie would introduce the popular music of the day made by artists like Frank Sinatra (her favourite), Kay Starr, Bing Crosby, and Nat King Cole. This made 17-year-old Jennie Wong the first female and first Chinese-Canadian DJ in Canada.

Jennie (Jenne) Wong’s column in Teen Town Talk, The Vancouver Sun, June 1948.

Jennie was the older sister of local author Larry Wong. After she married in 1950 and moved from Vancouver, Jennie worked for CBC Edmonton for a time and then later started her own business doing theatrical and television make-up in Edmonton. Jennie died in Edmonton in 2011 at age 79.

 

Seeking Sarah Cassell

Sarah’s Cafe at 218 E. Georgia St in 1960. Photo: Franz Lindner, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection.

In 2013, I wrote about this photo (above) that I found while working at the CBC Archives. It was one of a series of images shot by CBC Vancouver contract photographer, Franz Lindner, in 1960 as part of an assignment to illustrate a CBC Times (programming guide) feature for a radio documentary on drug addiction in Vancouver. At that time, I focused my research on figuring out where this photo was taken (218 East Georgia Street) and if the building still existed (it does).

Wallace building (built ca. 1906) home to the Liang You Book Store and Convenience store in March 2013 . Photo: C. Hagemoen

This first pass at research/inquiry satisfied me at the time and I put the story on hold for a few years. However it was consistently on the back of mind and I was always keeping my eye out for and collecting any piece of information I could find on Sarah and her café in my research travels. I wanted to know who Sarah Cassell was and how did she, and her café, fit into the (hi)story of Vancouver.  This historic area of the city (Hogan’s Alley/Strathcona/Chinatown) is full of tales of strong women who had their own businesses – Rosa Pryor, Viva Moore, Leona Risby, to name a few. Well here is the story of another one – Sarah Cassell. Continue reading “Seeking Sarah Cassell”

Sidewalk prisms of Vancouver

I was a shy child. Consequently, I spent a lot of time avoiding eye contact by looking down at the ground. All this time looking down at my feet allowed me to regard the ground upon which I was walking. Thus it was as a Vancouver kid of the 1970s that I first noticed the glassy purple squares embedded in sidewalks.

Have you ever been walking in an older part of the city and noticed a checkerboard grid of purple squares under your feet?

Sidewalk prism light mosaic. Photos: C. Hagemoen
Sidewalk prism lights mosaic. Photos: C. Hagemoen

No, they are not simply sidewalk decoration [wouldn’t that be nice?] but rather a system to illuminate spaces under sidewalks called areaways. Sidewalk prisms, also known as vault lights (or pavement lights in the UK), are glass prisms set into sidewalks in order to reflect the natural light from above, safely illuminating these subterranean spaces. [Why are they purple? The answer to that is at the end of the post].

Continue reading “Sidewalk prisms of Vancouver”

Sarah’s Cafe

Sarah's Cafe
May 1960.  FL-158-2 (detail) (Franz Lindner/CBC Vancouver). Original image was a 120 medium format B&W negative.

This great image is from the CBC Vancouver Media Archives Still Photograph Collection. It sparked some curiosity amongst my fellow library and archives types — Where was Sarah’s Cafe ? Does the building still exist today?

With former VPL Special Collections Librarian, Andrew Martin on the case, it didn’t take long to find out:

  • By searching the Vancouver city directories and telephone books from the 1950s.  In the city directories Sarah’s Grill is listed at 218 E. Georgia.  It was run by a Sarah Cassell.   It was listed from 1957 up until at least 1961.
  • In the Vancouver telephone books there is a Sarah’s Cafe listed at 220 E. Georgia.  It is listed from 1957 up until at least 1960.
  • Looking at a fire insurance map it shows 220 E. Georgia on the south side of the street and beside (east side)  a north south alley (the one parallels Main St. on the east side).

Franz Lindner, a contract photographer for CBC Vancouver, took many pictures of the area … Sarah’s Cafe being one.  His assignment was to shoot publicity photos for the CBC Times (programming guide) feature on the radio documentary, “G.O.M.” (God’s Own Medicine).  A  radio documentary that aired June 5, 1960 on CBC radio. According to the CBC times, ”G.O. M. will offer the total picture of addiction in Canada, with emphasis on the seat of the concentration, Vancouver”. So it seems fitting that Lindner would choose the area then know as Skid Row, now known as the DTES – Chinatown.

Although this image was not published in CBC Times, it is part of a series of images shot for the assignment. One of the images from that series was ultimately used as the cover photo for the CBC Times for that week.

So, that just leaves one question. Does the building still exist today?  A quick check in Google Maps Street View for 220 E. Georgia revealed that the building does indeed exist today. A little worse for wear, perhaps, but considering it is over 100 years old, it is looking pretty good.

I was recently in the area, and took this photo of the building and alley today.

Sarah's Cafe today
March 2013. Photo: C. Hagemoen

It is interesting to note the difference the construction of the Georgia Viaduct had on the neighbourhood. In the photo from 1960, the neighbourhood seems to go on forever (or at least for several blocks). In the photo above, it ends abruptly a block away. Hard to imagine the impact that would have had on the people that lived and worked there.