Having our photo taken is a quick and simple process these days. You usually don't have to wait long to see your portrait thanks to the lenses on our phones and the abundance of digital cameras available. If, on the other hand, you decide to use a disposable camera, the procedure may be entirely different and you will have to drop off the film and wait approximately a week for the hard copies to be ready. We might think that's a long time, but two mystery figures from the 19th century have been waiting more than a century to have their photos returned.
It has been 134 years since the film from a No. 1 Kodak camera was loaded in 1889. The original Kodak camera belonged to Miss Evelyn MacKenzie, an Australian golfer and amateur photographer. This vintage Kodak camera was pre-loaded with film for one hundred pictures, just like the modern Kodak cameras. However, in order to obtain the copies, the entire camera set needed to be shipped back to Kodak, where the film was extracted and processed. Eastman Dry Plate and Film Co. used the well-known tagline, "You press the button, we do the rest," during this period.
The old camera was purchased at auction by David Gardner, a Photographic Collector's Club of Great Britain member. He eventually made the difficult decision that he wanted to see the film developed, and after much searching, he was able to get in touch with Film Rescue International, located in Indian Head, Saskatchewan, Canada. After being kept secret for 134 years, they were able to develop the delicate nitrate-based celluloid roll film there. It turned out to be a laborious task, though, as only one negative produced an image that was somewhat visible. It was "the oldest film we have ever gleaned something from" and "probably the oldest ever to be developed that had anything on it," according to Greg Miller of Film Rescue, which explained the challenge.
The resultant picture shows two silhouettes dressed in Victorian or Edwardian clothing from the late 19th century. After examining the blurry image, fashion historian Jayne Shrimpton concluded that both figures are male and that one is donning a Tam o' Shanter hat. According to Gardner, the photograph appears to have been taken from behind and shows two people looking at a piece of equipment. Photographica World is a journal published by the Photographic Collector's Club of Great Britain. "I would think tennis or golf clubs would be used to match Miss Mackenzie's record, but the more I examine it, the more I believe it is a field camera on a tripod."
It is an incredible achievement that a roll of film loaded in a No. 1 Kodak camera in 1889 could be developed, even though there are many unanswered questions regarding the hazy figures. Maybe more details about MacKenzie's camera and her unidentified sitters will surface eventually.