A Very Difficult Roll


This post includes some difficult found images, as well as pictures of my own, from a roll of film bought partially exposed in a camera. I was quite disturbed to discover these images on the processed film. And this was made more difficult, for no rational reason, because they were on the same roll as pictures of my granddaughter’s third birthday party.

Perhaps other people will not find these images disturbing, but I have known a few people who have lived the life depicted on parts of this roll, and it is horrible to think of them or anyone living like this. At the same time, I know that these same people would be delighted to meet a three-year old, and would find a lot of joy in spending time with one. Probably there are three-year olds in their families that they do not get to see enough of, and are saddened by the distance of their disease.

I have sat on this roll all year, not knowing how to present it. I still don’t know what is best, but have decided to just post it like other rolls of film, but all of the images regardless of quality, and in multiple galleries with small thumbnails so that parts can be skipped over without looking in detail at larger versions of the images, if that is your preference.

This roll of Kodak 400 was in a Yashica EZS Zoom 105 that I bought at a second-hand store in January, the same time that I bought a Pentax Espio with film in it that I wrote about as my 2016 Roll 4 (link). For the Pentax I went with rambling mind to speculate about the people shown in the first half of the roll. I could do the same thing here, but I think a close examination of any one of the photos will say more than I care to.

The roll starts out with some pleasant photos taken beside a deep inlet – I am pretty sure they are along the road to Squamish, BC overlooking Howe Sound just north of Vancouver. I am imagining someone put the roll of film in the camera for the trip to visit a friend or relative, stopped at view points along the way, and relished the beautiful day and what it would bring. They are those kinds of photos.

Then very abruptly the roll contains harsh flash-lit interior photographs. The first photo is out of focus but shows a fly strip coated with insects. As one examines the photos it is revealed they are in the apartment of someone addicted to alcohol. The interior shots are a graphic story of the horrible filth resulting from a protracted bender. They reveal that the person who lived here was a woman who lived alone, always sleeping on the same side of a double bed. Her poison of choice was Bols’ Apricot Brandy. She spent a great deal of time in bed and relied heavily, though not always successfully, on diapers to assist with personal hygiene.

There is something antiseptic about the emotion behind the photography, as if the photographer was documenting things in a business like way, emotion buried. Showing no person. Trying to avoid the human tragedy in the details they captured. Trying to not breath too deeply. Trying to not notice the smell. Determined to not cry. There is a feeling that the woman is gone – either she has passed away, or has been taken to hospital. There is a sense that another person, another interloper, is with the photographer, perhaps waiting outside.

Why the photos were taken I can only guess. Perhaps to prove to family the enormity and urgency of a problem that needed help and intervention. Perhaps to capture the moment for private reasons.

The camera was never used again, the photos were left inside unprocessed without any more shots being made until eventually it was disposed of, ending up in a second-hand store on Vancouver Island, somehow. It is as if the images and the story they hold were contained, put away where they could be forgotten, like a malevolent genie trapped in a lamp; or a deep sorrow bound and secreted away in the dark.

It is this idea of horrible things trapped in the camera waiting release which is probably at the root of why I find it so difficult to have these shots on the same strip of film as my granddaughter. For a short while I trapped my granddaughter in the camera alone with this sordid and tragic tale. I know it is magical thinking but surely my reaction speaks to the power of story telling through images. And perhaps somehow, in that camera, the joy and hope represented by a happy and healthy three year old could mingle with the ruined life of the woman and bring her joy.

Perhaps these images from one roll of film will speak powerfully to you too.

2016-48: Yashica EZS Zoom 10, Kodak Colour 400, found in camera partially exposed, commercially processed, scanned at home.



19 thoughts on “A Very Difficult Roll

  1. Reblogged this on burnt embers and commented:

    There are some difficult-to-view photos on this, my Week 48 post at 52 Rolls, But they do help me think about things photographic so serve some purpose.
    At the top is a gallery of some nice scenery shots made by someone else on a roll of film still in a camera when I bought it.
    At the bottom is a gallery of photos from my granddaughter’s birthday party made on the end of the roll in the same camera and they are sweet and endearing.
    In the middle are shots made by someone else of an alcoholic’s apartment. It was the last use of the camera by that person, probably years ago. They are very difficult to look at as they tell a very sad and horrible story.

    If you want to view any of those galleries, then go to this link: http://wp.me/p2ZmXf-fFl


  2. The second group of photos is disturbing. The photos are such a contrast from the first group which looks like they were taken by a different individual altogether. Maybe that’s why the roll never got processed years ago. But your granddaughter is certainly a cutie. You used the remainder of the film wisely.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Ken. It had not occurred to me that there could be two photographers involved – I had put the differences down to the experience of walking into that apartment. But it is quite possible that more than one person was using it.
      I can understand the impulse to take the photos, and then a desire to never see prints from the film. Must have been a shocking experience.


  3. I know you’ve struggled over what was the “right” thing to do with this roll, and you’ve said it beautifully in your post. Your statement, “The camera was never used again and the photos were left inside…” is a simple and eloquent way of summarizing all the sadness evident in the photos – and makes me feel a great deal of sympathy for the person who made the images, and how sad and unending their task of documenting (and, presumably at some level, caring for) this person and her situation must have been. I almost feel that making those images was the very last straw.

    And…then…how sad to read “I trapped my granddaughter alone in the camera in this sad and tragic tale.” But three-year olds are nothing if not magical, and so she wasn’t trapped so much as she was in there, with those other pictures being sweet and delightful and three and showing you, and us, life’s magic.

    Thank you for your courage in posting this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks you so much Melinda, including for your counsel when I was first considering what to do with these images months ago. Letting them sit was a necessary part of the process.

      Sadness must have been in over-supply for the photographer, no matter their relationship with the woman. Even if they were merely the landlord documenting reasons for eviction (though I think if they were, they would have processed the film, and not abandoned the camera).

      Surely this event left a permanent mark on the person that took the photos – I would be surprised if it did not. I’d bet that taking the photographs was impulsive and reactionary arising from a need to do something, (anything), to help cope. I think the very last straw would have been getting the film processed and living through it all again.

      I agree that somehow the three-year old’s presence is uplifting and sweetening of an otherwise very bitter situation. Perhaps in some inexplicable way that will be felt at the other end of the roll.

      I wish I knew when this film was taken. Given the rise of digital, not to mention phone cameras, I would guess that this film is at least 15 years old. I bought a small digital camera with numerous CF cards a year or two ago in a thrift store.

      The CF cards have images of the same family that date between 2007 and 2011. If digital images are showing up in thrift stores that are nearly 10 years old, then film images are likely to be even older.

      In any case, there is a very high likelihood that the woman who lived here is no longer alive.


      • Your description of the images, when you first discovered them, was haunting. But not nearly has haunting as seeing them for myself. There are so many stories here – in fact, last night, I was thinking how those landscape photos at the beginning of the role take on an ominous cast after viewing the photos in the middle third of the role.

        A closer examination of the images could probably help date when they were taken – logos on stuff, household appliances, etc, – but I don’t have the energy to do that right now. So, let’s just go with “at least 15 years ago.”

        You were brave to post these, and were skillful in the way you did it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you Melinda. I had not thought about logos. The liquor store bags are from the government liquor store and they are still in use, but have been for years. Maybe the labels on the bottles have changed a bit. Or for the depends. Other than those, there is little that appears dateable, other than to the last 20 years or so, and much of it such as the furniture is more like the 70s. The bathroom fixtures seem more 80s or 90s. If only there were a receipt in plain view, and legible through the grain….


        • Brilliant suggestion Melinda! By chance in 2004 Bols changed their bottle type and brag about it in their History section https://bols.com/craft-heritage/history. In the picture with all the bottles, and looking at the original scan, I can see two types of Bols Apricot Brandy bottle. I would imagine that this indicates pre 2004 stock being used up and replaced by the new bottle and thus a likely date for the photos is 2004/2005. So, I was out by a few years, and this camera lingered in use longer than many film p&s did around here.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent read. I too recently struggled with some found film. In the first situation my found film was from a 1961 Yashica-A. I too finished the roll and for the most part it was a waste of money on my part. The film (Kodacolor II) was way too old to produce anything worthwhile and the 6 images I took were just weird (color wise). I did have a minor panic attack after I sent the roll off to the lab thinking that I might end up with something “bad”… like I don’t want to see it bad or the authorities are headed to my house bad. Luckily they were just some pictures of a family standing in their garden in Eau Claire, Wi. My most recent found film (inside another Yashica-A) was half exposed and will remain undeveloped. I’ve decided that it’s too risky to develop other people’s images. The pictures you found are disturbing to be sure but they could have been horrific. I’m glad for you that yours did not produce evidence of criminal activity or other acts.
    R/ Chris

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Chris. Thanks for the comment. I have had quite a few rolls of film processed from cameras that I bought second hand. There is always a bit of apprehension about what will be on the roll, though I have not considered that it could come to harm me. In Canada I think the authorities could become involved if there was child abuse depicted, but not likely from any other subject. If the processing lab even noticed. My lab knows me well, and that I occasionally bring in found film so I would hope there would be a reasonable response. I think the chances are extremely small – of the millions of rolls of film sold every year back in the day it must have been only a handful that had “bad” things on them. And if something truly criminal, the chances of the film being left in a camera seems extremely small.

      If I did find something like that on a roll of film, I would take it to the authorities myself, along with the camera. But perhaps it is another reason, in the long list of reasons, to develop my own film.

      Your blog looks interesting – I will be having a look around. One of my favourite cameras is a Yashica Electro 35GS. Excellent glass, substantial presence.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for posting the full roll. It was a very emotional experience for me to examine each image and think about the possible life story of this camera and its owner, as well as the later appearance of this lovely child. I’m not really able to verbalize my feelings but I’m glad you shared this.


    • Thank you mombam – I reacted the same way, and it took me a long time to get sufficient resolve to write about, and show, these images. I don’t think I really understand my feelings yet, at least not so as to articulate them clearly.


  6. I’m glad you put this up, exactly this way, because it’s always a privilege to connect with someone who has your sensitivity. That’s how is strikes me – I feel all the hard emotional work that went into weighing what to do, and I value that. Magical thinking? Well maybe, but also something real that’s revealed by your carefully chosen words. We’re all connected one way or another, aren’t we?


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