70-year-old box Brownie camera film developed! Do you recognize these faces?

Found undeveloped film leads to mystery of image origin
(Image credit: Courtney Hart)

Many older and technologically obsolete cameras can be found in vintage antique shops. And while they may look quirky when displayed on a camera shelf, there isn't an awful lot of use for them in the photography of today. 

A Kodak "box Brownie" Six-20 Model D camera was recently purchased for AU$20 (about $15 / £11) by Courtney Hart at a local store in Victoria, Australia. When the back of the camera was opened she discovered that a roll of film still lived in it, and she simply had to buy it.

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'Found photography' in recent years has become a creative concept and artistic project for many. Singular developed negatives and discarded photographs can be purchased among knick-knacks at a low cost from many second-hand stores, re-telling the lives and stories of those pictured in the anonymously captured photos. 

(Image credit: Courtney Hart)

After realizing her luck in finding the camera, Courtney set out to get the 620 film that was left in the Brownie developed at a film laboratory in Geelong. Although she didn't have much hope, with the film likely to have been sat in the camera for decades, Courtney waited patiently to hear back from the lab.

"I was just thinking, 'Wow, if there's film in there I really want to see what's on it, I wonder if I'll be able to get any photos from it, I wonder if it's going to be able to be developed,'" she said, (as reported by ABC.net).

One of the developed images from Courtney's camera (Image credit: Courtney Hart)

Courtney was eventually delivered six images to her email address from the photo lab, the first two consisting of mostly dark smudges, though the rest left her with more puzzling questions. Identifiable real faces could be seen in the shots! But it wasn't entirely clear what the many men pictured were doing or celebrating, especially in such a tropical setting.

The Kodak Brownie Six-20 was created and sold between 1946 and 1957, but the specific face plate design on Courtney's $20 camera was only a feature on models up to 1953. The brownie is able to capture eight 6x9cm negatives shot on 620 film, that was later discontinued by Kodak in 1995. 

Interestingly, the lab told Courtney that the camera film she gave them was available between 1939 and the late 1950s, which can be used as a rough estimate as to when these photos may have been captured, if used at the time of purchase. The film could well have been unused until recently before the camera was sold to Courtney's local store, Vinnies in Grovedale, adding to the excitement of the mystery.

Posted by geelonghistory on 

Cameras that require 620 film are still useable with regular 120 film, but require various methods such as respooling 120 film onto a 620 spool, or by trimming or sanding the plastic 120 spool to the diameter of a 620 spool to be able to fit inside the camera. 

Spools for 620 film can also be bought from some suppliers, and occasionally found in old and forgotten 620 cameras if you're as lucky as Courtney – though a person who may be mechanically-inclined could probably attempt to make their own 620 spools.

(Image credit: Courtney Hart)

Courtney has been on a mission to reunite these photos with their family, sharing the images to Facebook groups across the country in the hope that someone may recognize the men, location or event. Some speculated that the images could be in relation to the Vietnam War, although this has been regarded as unlikely due to the facial hair of the men pictured. 

Shared on the original Facebook post by Courtney, she mentioned that the price tag from Vinnies said it had been at the shop since 26 March 2022, so the camera had only been sold there recently. If you know anything, please do get in touch with Courtney as it would be remarkable to find out who is in these photos!

Read more:

Best retro cameras
Best camera for film students
Best vintage lenses
Ever wondered how Kodak film is made? 

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Beth Nicholls
Staff Writer

A staff writer for Digital Camera World, Beth has an extensive background in various elements of technology with five years of experience working as a tester and sales assistant for CeX. After completing a degree in Music Journalism, followed by obtaining a Master's degree in Photography awarded by the University of Brighton, she spends her time outside of DCW as a freelance photographer specialising in live music events and band press shots under the alias 'bethshootsbands'.