World’s Oldest Known Photo to Ever Be Developed Reveals Two Mysterious Figures

Oldest Photo to be Developed After it Was Taken

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.

A No. 1 Kodak camera—the first-ever camera by Kodak—was discovered with an undeveloped roll of film inside. The images were likely taken in 1889.

Oldest Photo to be Developed After it Was Taken

An advertisement from “The Photographic Herald and Amateur Sportsman,” November 1889 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

One of the photos reveals a mysterious pair of men in Victorian or Edwardian clothing. The fact that the camera was pre-loaded in 1889, makes this photo possibly the oldest to ever be developed from a roll of film.

Oldest Photo to be Developed After it Was Taken

Photographic Collector's Club of Great Britain: Website | Facebook | Twitter
h/t: [PetaPixel]

All images via the Photographic Collector's Club of Great Britain / David Gardner, unless stated otherwise.

This article has been edited and updated; an earlier version mislabeled the location of Film Rescue International.

Related Articles:

People Can Be Prescribed “Photography” as a Mental Health Treatment in the UK

Discover Who the Most Photographed Person in the World Is in 2023

These Rare Daguerrotypes Are the Earliest Surviving Photos of Iran in the 1850s

Margherita Cole

Margherita Cole is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and illustrator based in Southern California. She holds a BA in Art History with a minor in Studio Art from Wofford College, and an MA in Illustration: Authorial Practice from Falmouth University in the UK. She wrote and illustrated an instructional art book about how to draw cartoons titled 'Cartooning Made Easy: Circle, Triangle, Square' that was published by Walter Foster in 2022.
Become a
My Modern Met Member
As a member, you'll join us in our effort to support the arts.
Become a Member
Explore member benefits

Sponsored Content