Some of the photographs and negatives we are presented with are beyond salvage, but it can be worth persevering. The following episode has no China connection, but perhaps indicates what might be done with any seemingly hopeless case. It is also an example of what might be done with a found object. A favourite shop of mine sits on West Allington on the western edge of Bridport town centre in Dorset. D. Palmer, trading online as ‘Film Is Fine’, is stuffed with old film and photographs, cameras and projectors, postcards and associated ephemera. It’s a wonderful shop.
On a bright summer’s day earlier this year I noted a glass 3 x 4 glass negative in the window. For £1 ‘(as found)’ it provided a tempting technical challenge.
When taken from the plastic wallet the emulsion film on the surface of the glass mount immediately rolled itself up.
Here it is side on:
We nudged it back open and flat, and placed a glass plate over it. Then using a lightbox we photographed the negative, and then reversed it to positive. And this below is what we found (without any further photoshopping). It’s an atmospheric topographical composition, taken on a sunny late morning on Westminister Bridge. The shop had provided a ‘probable’ attribution to John Stabb, as it came with a bundle of other work by him. Stabb was apparently very active in the 1880s and 1890s working for the London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company, although he is best known for his record of old Devon churches.
The view seems just about contemporary with this one below, but I think Stabb’s is rather more striking.
A similar shot today, taken from just a little further along the bridge, and later in the day:
The moral of the story: don’t give up hope. And always take a gamble on ‘as found’.