In 2015, Irish camera collector William Fagan bought a Leica III camera that dates back to 1935. He got the vintage camera with film, protected in a Leica FILCA cassette, which Fagan set aside and revisited only this summer.
When he finally developed it, however, the images came out really good. No wonder—Fagan took the 70-year-old Perutz film to Mella Travers, who owns The Darkroom in Dublin, and the two carefully worked on the film through a one-hour stand process with a diluted developer.
But this wasn't the end of the adventure; it was just beginning. The 22 shots were trying to tell a story of a glamorous young woman and an older gentleman in what appeared to be their journey through Europe.
Fagan said the photos were so personal, his initial instincts were saying he shouldn't be looking at them. It was like peeking into a stranger's family photo album. Or their memories. But the man couldn't shake one thought: what if he could track down the family of the couple in the images? He estimates the shots date back to the early 1950s, so the couple—if they were still alive—would have to be quite elderly.
Image credits: William Fagan
"The shots were very well composed and, apart from a small number, were generally well-exposed," Fagan told Bored Panda, adding that the ones which were not light damaged turned out remarkably well considering their age. "The camera would have had no light meter and the photographer would have used a separate meter, the Sunny 16 rule, or just guessed. We still do not know the native ISO/ASA of the Perutz film."
Fagan contacted an old friend, Mike Evans, who runs a photography website, MacFilos, based in the UK, and wrote up a piece about the photographs, which Evans published (in December they also released an update).
Since then, the photos have appeared in publications across the globe, and the original article's comments are full of theories, trying to find out who the mysterious couple might be. Some commentators even think the couple could be royalty or Hollywood stars!
The old car that features prominently in many of the shots has been identified as a BMW 315 Cabriolet. It has a visible registration plate but sadly, car registration records don't date back that far. The next lead, according to Fagan, might come from speaking to BMW owner clubs. He believes the number plate was issued in Munich, Germany, in 1948, during the American occupation of southern Germany.
Fagan is now fairly confident that the journey was made in the spring of 1951.
"This [guess was] made possible by a forensic examination of the Bahnhofplatz photograph undertaken by a Leica Forum member," Evans wrote, explaining the current state of the investigation. "Using old images of the same scene, comparing advertisements and street furniture, including the police sentry box, he was able to come to a conclusion. Bahnhofplatz in the old photographs was an ever-changing tableau and has helped pin down the period when the photograph on William’s roll was taken. It seems that all the ducks were in a row in late December 1950 ... but we know from the weather, the dress, and the mountain pass conditions that the journey was probably a few months later."
Thanks to contributors Toby and Chris, who have done much research, the route of the holiday has been identified, and all the locations are now known. One photograph, for instance, is almost certainly taken from the fourth floor of Hotel Tamina in Bad Ragaz.
"Our objective now must be to get as much local publicity as possible in the hope that someone recognizes a grandmother or grandfather, uncle or cousin," Evans explained. "There must be someone in Bavaria or Canton Zürich who recognizes these people."
At this point, however, our detectives are more hopeful than confident. "We are pursuing a number of leads, but most so far have led to a dead end. 70 years is a long time, at least 3 generations, and we are really relying on somebody recognizing the people and contacting us if they actually wish to do that," Fagan said.