I recently purchased an original Zeiss Ikon 520/2 – a folding medium-format camera – from a second-hand store. To my surprise, it was holding a roll of film with the word “EXPOSÉ” on it. I found out the camera was built around 1929 and the film was produced between the 40’s and the 70’s.


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My friend Johan Holleman, who has been developing his own films for the most part of his life, kindly offered to develop the film for me, but warned me the chances to recover actual photos were very slim, considering the guesstimated age of the film.

Last Tuesday I found myself in Johan’s kitchen documenting him working his magic on an, what later turned out to be, almost 70-year-old film. The moment the processed film was taken from the container, we were both stunned, as there actually seemed to be photos on the negatives!

We scanned the negatives and found four images had enough detail in them to tell that the last time this camera was used, it belonged to a man (who’s even in one of the pictures, carrying the camera’s case) who probably brought his expensive piece of gear on one of his travels.

After putting the images up on my Facebook page, one of my contacts, Wilco, quickly commented that the place looked an awful lot like Biarritz – a city in the French Basque Country in southwestern France. He has been there a lot and thought it looked very familiar. After sending me a Google Streetview image, I was immediately convinced the images are indeed shot in Biarritz.

Looking at the images, I feel I stumbled across a small treasure-chest – or time capsule – giving us a tiny glimpse into the past. It really makes me want to find out who the people in the pictures are. Hopefully, one day, I will be able to hand over these negatives to the descendants of this mystery photographer.

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Zeiss Ikon 520/2. This 1929 camera looked barely used when I found it at a second-hand store…

Zeiss Ikon 520/2

This is what I’ve found inside. Woman posing in Biarritz – photographer unknown

Woman posing at the beach in Biarritz – photographer unknown

The owner of the camera in Biarritz – photographer unknown

Woman posing at the beach in Biarritz – photographer unknown

The exposed roll of film I found inside the camera…

Developing a 70-years-old roll of film…

It was a magical process

That requires knowledge…

Timing…

Patience…

And accuracy

The results are magical!

Google Streetview screenshot of the place where one of the old images was taken