Today, having our picture taken is a fast and easy process. With lenses on our phones and the plethora of digital cameras available, you usually don't have to wait a long time to see your portrait. However, if you choose to use a disposable camera, then the process can be completely different, requiring you to drop the film off and wait about a week for the physical copies to be available. That may seem like a long time to us, but a pair of 19th-century mystery figures have been waiting over 100 years to get their picture back.
Film from a No. 1 Kodak camera was recently developed, 134 years after it was loaded in 1889. The early Kodak camera was owned by an Australian golfer named Miss Evelyn MacKenzie, who was a hobbyist photographer. Much like Kodak cameras today, this vintage model came pre-loaded with film for 100 photos, but to receive the copies, the entire camera set had to be shipped back to Kodak, where the film was extracted and processed. “You press the button, we do the rest” was the famous slogan used by Eastman Dry Plat and Film Co. during this time.
David Gardner, a member of the Photographic Collector's Club of Great Britain, acquired the vintage camera at an auction. In time, he decided that he wanted to get the film developed, which prompted a long and difficult search, ultimately connecting him with the Film Rescue International in Indian Head, Saskatchewan, Canada. There, they had the ability to develop the delicate nitrate-based celluloid roll film after it was hidden away for 134 years. However, it proved to be an arduous task, with only one negative returning a somewhat visible image. Greg Miller from the Film Rescue said the difficulty was due to it being “the oldest film we have ever gleaned something from” and “likely the oldest ever to be developed that had anything on it at all.”
The resulting image features two silhouettes in late 19th-century fashion, either Victorian or Edwardian. Fashion historian Jayne Shrimpton looked over the hazy photo and believes that both figures are men, with one wearing a tam o' shanter hat. “The image appears to be taken, possibly from behind, of two people contemplating a piece of equipment,” writes Gardner in Photographica World; the journal of the Photographic Collector’s Club of Great Britain. “To match Miss Mackenzie’s record, I would expect the equipment to be tennis or golf clubs, but the more I look at it the more I think it is a field camera on a tripod.”
Although there are plenty of questions surrounding the hazy figures, the fact that a roll of film loaded in a No. 1 Kodak camera in 1889 was able to be developed is an amazing feat. Perhaps in time, more information about MacKenzie's camera and her anonymous sitters will come to light.