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Unseen 1930’s nitrate film discovered

Discussion in 'Visual Arts' started by MrRom92, Jul 5, 2020.

  1. MrRom92

    MrRom92 Forum Supermodel Thread Starter

    Location:
    Long Island, NY
    storytime… I recently ended up getting a hold of a 100’ tin of DuPont Superior (Nitrate) stock circa-1930’s that appeared to be sealed, in a way that I didn’t think looked like a re-seal.. I don’t shoot movies, but I do like photography and I particularly love experimenting with any weird stuff I can get my hands on, just to see what I can do with it. I fully intended to shoot through all this old film.


    So, I put it in a bulk loader, and the first red flag was that it didn’t quite feel like 100’ of film. I filled up a few rolls anyway, including one particularly short roll I could shoot some test exposures on and get a feeling for ISO.


    As is my typical working process for anything this ancient, I semi-stand dev’d in highly dilute HC-110.

    The good news is I got pictures, the bad news is I got a lot more pictures than I bargained for!


    The can apparently was re-sealed as the film in there was already shot. It looks like there’s 4-perf silent movie footage of someone swinging a baseball bat or something… and I shot my test exposures all over them!

    Well, luckily there is still a lot of film left that I haven’t shot all over and I will be careful not to ruin anymore of the original footage.

    There is definitely quite a bit of base-fog so I am sure a more typical developing approach wouldn’t result in a good image - the stand development/cold HC-110 method I used would probably give best results. But of course I’m hesitant to cut up the film any more than I already have! And I’m not sure if it’s even possible to even do a similar development process like that on a larger reel of movie film.


    It’s definitely cool that I was able to recover an 80-90 year old latent image, but at the same time… the stuff wasn’t cheap and I was under the impression that I would have 18 rolls worth of the stuff I could experiment with, now I have literally nothing I can actually shoot sooooo that’s kindof a bummer hahah. Not sure what my next steps are but I think it would be neat to see this lost movie footage restored and played for the first time.
     
    ceddy10165, Dan C and budwhite like this.
  2. JamieC

    JamieC Forum Resident

    Location:
    Detroit Mi USA
    Do you have a capture of the ballplayer?
     
    longdist01 likes this.
  3. JamieC

    JamieC Forum Resident

    Location:
    Detroit Mi USA
    You say 1930s and also silent. This suggests one or two things. The first would be a home movie. Not likely during the depression or this type of film. The second would be raw newsreel footage. IIRC one of the major newsreel was based in NY. You could have film of Ruth or Gehrig and who knows what else.
     
    Steve Litos and longdist01 like this.
  4. SixtiesGuy

    SixtiesGuy Ministry of Love

    My (purely layperson's) understanding is that this stock becomes highly. highly volatile at this age. Any concern about that?
     
  5. MrRom92

    MrRom92 Forum Supermodel Thread Starter

    Location:
    Long Island, NY

    Wouldn’t that be nice! Yeah, I’m also thinking newsreel footage or something along those lines. Unfortunately seems that Babe Ruth footage isn’t the case, I only vaguely saw someone swinging something, but now that the negs are dry I tried to get a closer look through a slide viewer. Looks like the guy is actually swinging a golf club.

    Film in the bulk loader, with a Leica FILCA... before I knew this would be destroying pre-existing footage…

    [​IMG]

    one of the more standard canisters I loaded up, note the inked markings in the film rebate


    [​IMG]


    Here’s a quick snap of a portion where the test image I shot “over” it doesn’t seem to have effected the original image too badly.


    [​IMG]


    Above, cropped and inverted


    [​IMG]

    Note that the emulsion is very, very sensitive… I even used a hardening fixer but the emulsion was coming off the base very easily and appears to have a “crackled” effect. I’m thinking maybe a series of gentle pre-soaks prior to development can mitigate this if I dev the rest of the footage…



    Absolutely. I just try to be “smart” about handling the stuff. This is the most I’ve ever handled, usually it’s small quantities, just a few short feet of film enough to fill a 35mm canister and not an entire reel’s worth… of course the truly smart thing to do is not bring any amount of this stuff home
     
    JamieC likes this.
  6. fuse999

    fuse999 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Texas
    I believe that is a golfer instead of a ball player, not that it makes a lot of difference.
     
    Strat-Mangler, Solaris and 905 like this.
  7. MrRom92

    MrRom92 Forum Supermodel Thread Starter

    Location:
    Long Island, NY
    Yeah, at first I could only vaguely make out somebody swinging something, but now after getting a closer look through the viewer it’s pretty clear that it’s a golfer... any notable golfers of the era I should know about?
     
    fuse999 likes this.
  8. You should reach out,to @Vidiot as he might be able to connect you with experts in deal(ng with older nitrate stock and the best way to recover those images.
     
    longdist01 likes this.
  9. MrRom92

    MrRom92 Forum Supermodel Thread Starter

    Location:
    Long Island, NY
    I’d definitely welcome any other expert opinions! I can only imagine that exposed film that’s sat around for this long undeveloped is not the most common thing. I did reach out to a cine lab I’ve used in the past who specialize in archival projects like this, curious to see what they think about the situation.
     
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  10. Vidiot

    Vidiot Now in 4K HDR!

    Location:
    Hollywood, USA
    longdist01 likes this.
  11. profholt82

    profholt82 Resident Blowhard

    Location:
    West Michigan
    Some of the big stars of the '30s were Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson and Walter Hagen, but looking at your image there, damned if that swing doesn't resemble a young Arnold Palmer in the 1950s. He had that same high finish in his swing which is pretty distinctive. Also, most golfers in the '30s wore knickers with knee high socks, not full length trousers like that. The golfer in your image looks very 1950s. Not saying that it's not an image from the '30s, but just that based on my knowledge of golf, it doesn't look like it.
     
    longdist01 likes this.
  12. profholt82

    profholt82 Resident Blowhard

    Location:
    West Michigan
    Here are a couple of pictures of Palmer in the '50s to give you a better idea of his distinctive high finish to his swing. It's not common for golfers to finish their swings with their arms so high and outstretched like that, which is why he was the first one I thought of when I saw your image.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
     
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  13. MrRom92

    MrRom92 Forum Supermodel Thread Starter

    Location:
    Long Island, NY
    Thank you! Could be a great help in getting this material preserved



    thanks for this, that is really interesting… you know, the possibility of it being Palmer definitely came to mind when I realized it was a golfer… until I also realized he would have been very, very young in the 30’s! There is absolutely a possibility that a different film was stored in this older tin, and it could be from a much later date... but I can say without a doubt this is nitrate stock and that would have already been seen as kinda obsolete by 1950’s standards. If it is a fairly unique posture though, that definitely adds a bit to the mystery!
     
  14. JohnO

    JohnO Senior Member

    Location:
    Washington, DC
  15. MrRom92

    MrRom92 Forum Supermodel Thread Starter

    Location:
    Long Island, NY

    From the short strip I developed, it’s hard to make out through the base fog but I do see “PANCHROMATIC” and “NITRATE” at separate points. Thanks for that PDF, I came across it in my research as well - I was hoping I’d be able to see the DuPont logo to get a better idea of how to date the film. It should at least be present elsewhere once the rest of it is processed!
     
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  16. MrRom92

    MrRom92 Forum Supermodel Thread Starter

    Location:
    Long Island, NY
    here’s a photo of the original tin, before I opened it. Note that the tape sealing the can is stamped “PANCHR” (not sure if it originally read PANCHROMATIC and that’s all that can still be read) and this can’t be seen in the photo, but the tape also had a tab of sorts that would have to be torn in order to open the tin. Thus why I did not immediately assume that this tin could have been re-sealed.

    [​IMG]
     
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  17. Vidiot

    Vidiot Now in 4K HDR!

    Location:
    Hollywood, USA
    BTW, be warned that nitrate film is very flammable, and if your house burns down because a roll of nitrate film started a fire, I don't think it's covered by insurance. We had to get a $20,000/year policy just to house a maximum of 3 rolls of nitrate film per day at our company a few years ago, and the film was basically only in the building long enough to scan it and then get it out of there. Only special vaults that are extremely well-ventilated and have halon gas and other fire preventative measures are able to legally store nitrate film.



    (For a more dramatic illustration of the flammability of nitrate films, see the ending of Inglourious Basterds.)
     
  18. MrRom92

    MrRom92 Forum Supermodel Thread Starter

    Location:
    Long Island, NY

    Thank you for this, I personally did feel a bit out of my comfort zone picking up such a relatively large tin to be perfectly honest. I’ve only had, let’s say maybe 20-25ft of vintage nitrate stock in the past, none of it in a deteriorated condition that led me to believe it would be prone to spontaneous combustion, and I kept it all frozen, so by and large it seemed like a “managed risk”. Suddenly adding 100ft to that did feel like a big step past that, and not really the smartest thing I could have done.

    I ultimately have no sentimental attachment to this golfer material so I will probably find some way of passing it forward to someone more equipped to handle it, once I’m through with it anyway. I’d also be prepared to dispose of my own nitrate negatives too, if it had to come to that.


    Nitrocellulose lacquer discs are basically coated with the same stuff. It’s interesting to me that archives don’t typically take the same precautions handling audio materials.
     
  19. MrRom92

    MrRom92 Forum Supermodel Thread Starter

    Location:
    Long Island, NY
    Here‘s a burn test of my own, just a little trim off the leader of some Kodak Super-XX from 1942, which I shot earlier this year… it did flare up pretty quickly

    [​IMG]

    In a more productive light, here are some of the photos I shot on that roll. Leica IIIf, Elmar 50mm f/3.5


    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  20. Solaris

    Solaris a bullet in flight

    Location:
    New Orleans, LA
    The first and fourth shot above are really stunning. You got some great shadow detail in the bottom one. What kind of developer are you using?
     
    Rooster_Ties likes this.
  21. MrRom92

    MrRom92 Forum Supermodel Thread Starter

    Location:
    Long Island, NY
    Thank you, the 4th one I did juice the contrast a bit in post, but that’s nothing that couldn’t also be done in a darkroom. So a pretty tame edit, all things considered. The others are straight scans. All in all not bad for a roll of film that’s been sitting around for 80 years! I like experimenting with wacky stuff like this, anything that goes far off the beaten path…

    I semi-stand developed these in HC-110, 1:119, ran the water cold - results in a low contrast image but does cut down on base fog quite a bit. Did 30 minutes total, agitate for 30 seconds at the start, and another 30 seconds at the 15 minute mark.

    The film definitely needed a lot of light, I was mostly aiming for ISO 12 and shot most of the roll at around 1/15 wide open, that’s about as slow as I’m willing to go handheld with a 50mm. The 3rd picture there was exposed for 30s in a dimly lit bar, camera resting on the bar.

    The idea with minimal (or no) agitation like this is that the developer isn’t moved around, so it exhausts where it is in contact with the highly exposed areas (highlights, or in this case base fog) without overdeveloping, while the shadows can continue to develop and even things out.


    Underagitation can also lead to bromide drag, which I experienced in these shots - you can see this as the streaks leading up from the bottom sprocketholes into the frame. I’ve since been able to tweak things a bit and iron that out though, it’s partially due to the frame spacing of the Leica. I should be able to entirely avoid that going into the future.
     
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  22. Vidiot

    Vidiot Now in 4K HDR!

    Location:
    Hollywood, USA
    I had to take a safety test from the MPAA back in the 1980s, and one of the things they showed us is they set a 1-foot piece of Nitrate film on fire and dropped it in a bucket of water. The Nitrate burned under water, because it provided its own oxygen! So they impressed upon us the fact that it's almost like gasoline, and once Nitrate gets ignited, it's really, really hard to put out. And if there's other rolls of Nitrate nearby, the whole thing goes up and the cans can explode.

    But 100 feet... that's not so bad. I think we had maybe 5000-6000 feet in the room, but again, they aired it out, it wasn't in cans, it had plenty of ventilation there was no sparks in the room, and it was (relatively) safe. I did have a case where we opened up a can to transfer, and half of it had turned into jelly, like this:

    [​IMG]

    That goo is incredibly volatile, and believe me, we hustled that roll out of the building ASAP.
     
  23. MrRom92

    MrRom92 Forum Supermodel Thread Starter

    Location:
    Long Island, NY
    hah, I can only imagine. Luckily any of the nitrate stock I’ve encountered is not anywhere near that far deteriorated - in fact I think if I held some up to a fresh roll of Tri-X, it’d be impossible for even the most keen eyed photographer to tell them apart. There isn’t really anything in terms of look or feel that differentiates the stuff at face value… not till you put a match to it anyway…


    I imagine that level of deterioration is an inevitability for *any* of this stuff. We can slow it down but likely can’t stop it. Amazingly a lot of notable stuff still exists in seemingly fine condition. There’s even this video where the guy is handling the OCN for the Great Train Robbery!

    https://youtu.be/gjpBIvY_pfU
     
  24. caracallac

    caracallac Forum Resident

    Location:
    Ireland
    Derek Gee likes this.

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