However mysterious these portraits may seem, the story of how I acquired them is just as evasive. Like most of my discoveries of film photographs, the negatives are considered lost meaning that there is no information known about the image. The set of three negatives appear to be a portrait session of a young woman possibly in her 30s. Two of the three negatives she is seen wearing a very formal outfit complete with a hat and mysterious grin. In one of the three she is seen facing away from the camera in casual attire. I’m no expert in dating photographs, but if I had to take an educated guess based on the type of film, I might say the photographs were taken sometime near the mid 1920s.
The negatives themselves are in average condition and are thick compared to the average 35mm or 120 film. They measure 3.5 x 4.75 inches and the only notation seen is the brand, Eastman-Safety-Kodak. The sheet film is known to be Kodak 541 pack film, which began production in 1920 and ended in 1941.
Kodak 541 film, most commonly known as pack film was highly used by professional photographers in the 1920s era. The films were produced by several companies to include Kodak and were sold in various sizes from all the way up to 4″x5″. Most pack films sold contained a set number of negatives; Kodak 541 pack film included 12 sheets of film.
What I find unusual about the portraits themselves is that the backdrop appears to be slightly off center. In all three of the photographs the outside elements of the backdrop are seen; it’s unclear if this was done intentionally to be cropped later in the darkroom. I personally like the inclusion of the exterior studio elements because it gives more of a realistic view. Most of the portrait imagery I’ve seen from the 1900s is so formal and posed and these images have more of a casual look.
With regards to lighting, it appears the photographer used a single continuous hard light on the model for the key light, based on the hard shadows seen on the face and the light fall off behind her. There appears to be a secondary light in one of the photographs which may have been placed behind the model as a back light to make the backdrop brighter, causing more separation between the model and backdrop. What amazes me the most is the amount of sharpness in the image. For such an old photograph, there is so much detail in the texture on the clothing, skin and hair; even the specular highlights appear just as sharp in her eyes.
I have made a few contact prints of the negative and just recently I have made enlargements using an improvised negative carrier from mat board.