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.
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.
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.
*2021 update: A few people have commented that the most likely scenario is that 5 rolls of film were already developed and were then rolled onto one spool and covered with a couple of winds of backing paper for protection many years ago. I had previously wondered the same thing but didn’t know what the effect of processing film twice would have on the rolls. It seems that processing film twice would have no effect on film once the film has been fixed once. This would explain why the decades old, loosely rolled film had such great looking negatives with no fog. The technician at The Lab would not know that the film was already processed since they were working in full darkness and all film feels the same in the dark.
In 2021, I wrote about this discovery in the latest issue of Geist magazine: Geist 118.
Enjoy some more of these images:
[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…