Unwinding the camera reel carefully in the darkroom, Martijn van Oers could never have imagined what he was about to stumble onto. All this simply from happening upon an old camera with its film still intact in a local thrift store. Careful not to damage the negatives, he paid special attention to each step of what he was doing, aware that he was dealing with something dating back close to 100 years. As the chemicals started to dry and the pictures slowly began to appear, Martijn’s first reaction from the outlines was shock and total surprise. What exactly had he stumbled upon?
An Appreciation For Old Photographs
Passionate about photography for as far back as he can remember, Netherlands born Martijn van Oers has always loved being behind the camera. While not shying away from modern photography, he is known for an appreciation for old photographs, in particular those with somewhat of an eerie nature. Receiving his first camera early in his teens, Martijn was quick to start developing his skills and taking pictures every chance he got.
Not Like The Other Children
Martijn wasn’t a very social child, opting to spend time on his own rather than running around with a big crowd of friends doing what would typically be considered to be “normal” activities. This is often the case with introverted and shy people. The more time he spent wandering the streets of Breda, the more he started to photograph old buildings and abandoned spaces. This would be the start of an obsession with all things macabre, something which didn’t go unnoticed by his family over the years.
The Collection of Old Photographs
This obsession with all things dark manifested in the form of a growing collection of old photographs, which Martijn put up in his room in every inch of the walls and ceiling. His mother often commented about these pictures not necessarily being bright and cheerful. Instead, these were snaps showcasing the more sinister side of town, many of which had been taken by Martijn himself. This infatuation with old photography would eventually lead him to a thrift store, resulting in an astonishing discovery that same day.
Visiting The Thrift Store
In 2017, Martijn was walking through town and suddenly found himself pulled towards a thrift store just a short distance away from where he was. Always excited about possibly stumbling onto some vintage photographs, he didn’t hesitate to go when the idea came into his head. Although limiting himself to a quick glance around the store as he was in a hurry, it was as soon as he was preparing to leave that something curious near the exit caught his eye.
On one of the lower shelves, Martijn spotted a unique looking vintage camera. Upon closer inspection, he saw it was a Zeiss Ikon 520/2 and surprisingly, it was in great condition for something that was so old. Given the state it was in, he wondered whether it had perhaps only been used once or twice. Perhaps his wife would love this as a gift. How could he have known that he had actually stumbled onto something nearly 100 years old within the camera itself?
His Wife Reacts
Thinking about it even more once he left the store, he knew that he wanted to give the camera to his wife as a gift when he got home. Naturally, she was over the moon at the gesture. While talking about it over dinner, Martijn wondered about what it would be like to take pictures with the camera, as its parts were seemingly still in pristine condition. He recalls wondering if it would be fun to shoot with something old school, relative to the high-end equipment he had been using.
Exploring The Camera Fully
After dinner, the couple began to inspect the camera further, and Martijn was particularly curious about the inner workings of such a delicate piece of equipment. Opening it up, he realized that there was something inside. Martijn recalls wanting to see if it still worked, checking if all the right mechanisms were still operational. To his surprise, the camera still had a roll of film in it.
Wondering About The Contents of The Film
With his usual curiosity about all things macabre in tow, Martijn wondered whether he might stumble onto something sinister in the film. Would it be something that he would be regretting after the fact? The fact remained that once exposed, these pictures would be out there. There’s no other way he was going to give up the opportunity to stumble onto something interesting, even if it was just to become part of a decorative space in his house.
An Interest In The Wolf Man
As a teenager, Martijn had been obsessed with all things dark and sinister. He was very familiar with the story of Fritz Haarmann, a serial killer who operated in the Hanover region between 1918 and 1924, leaving 27 children and teens missing in his wake. From reading his personal journals, Martijn knew that he had had a camera, a luxury at the time, and something which authorities never managed to recover. What if this was the camera?
Curious About The Contents
What if Martijn and his wife had stumbled onto the very camera that had evaded authorities for years? He entertained the thought as Hanover was very close to the town he was living in. He began to wonder about whether the contents of the film may in fact hold something that was scarring and terrifying. Naturally curious about these things, he knew he had no choice but to go ahead and develop the film.
Pondering Calling The Police
Later that evening, Martijn and his wife discussed whether he should develop the film. Should they call the authorities before doing anything? He didn’t want to do anything in rush, especially if there were greater consequences at stake. This could also just be an overreaction, which would lead to him wasting the authorities’ time if it wasn’t what he suspected it may be. The pair agreed that seeing what was on the film would remain priority one.
The Text on the Film
Inspecting the roll of film again, Martijn noticed that the words EXPOSE had been emblazoned on the side. At the time, he thought it may have meant that the film had already been used and exposed. Going back to basics, he decided to do some research about the camera and the role of film, to get a better sense of what he might be dealing with. When he saw the dates attached to the production of these items, a chill ran down his spine.
Learning More About The Camera
From his initial research, Martijn discovered that this particular camera model was built around 1924, making it at least 90 years old. As a result of this, it was unlikely that the film inside would produce any images, as film didn’t typically survive such long periods without formal preservation methods. Keen to try to expose it regardless, he decided to reach out to his friend Johan Holleman, an experienced developer, to find out if there was a likelihood of recovering any of the pictures after all.
An Extremely Difficult Challenge
As Johan put it, it seemed that the chances were slim to none that they would be able to recover anything from the old film. It may have taken some persuasion, but Martijn eventually got him to agree to help with the project. As it turned out, Johan was just as curious about what may have been on the film as his friend Martijn was. Was it possible that by some miracle the photographs may have survived all this time?
A Plan To Expose The Images
As any photographer will tell you, exposing a roll of film to sunlight is the easiest way to damage the film and to render the roll void of all images. Martijn Images were going to need to be exposed in a dark room. The following Tuesday, he found himself at Johan’s house in a makeshift darkroom in the kitchen. As the process unfolded, both men were astounded to note some faint outlines on the negatives. Was it possible that these images were still on the film after all this time?
Developing The Film
As the negatives were hung up, the pair contemplated that they had possibly opened up a Pandora’s box by developing these images. All that was left now was for them to find out what was on the images. Desperate to dry them with blow dryers in hand, the friends let their curiosity run wild, taking guesses about what they may be close to uncovering and whether it might even have the significant historical meaning as well.
Inspecting The Photographs
As soon as the negatives were dry enough to inspect, the men didn’t waste any time in doing so. A projector helped them to take a closer look. Astonishingly, four images were clearly visible after all these years. While slightly blurry, they could immediately tell what the photographer had attempted to capture back when the images were first taken. As if a ghost from another lifetime, they soon locked eyes with a woman who was standing next to a cement pathway along with some sort of mountain range.
A Collection of Curious Photographs
The rest of the photographs were similar to this picture, with each showcasing the same woman standing somewhat eerily and gazing back at the camera. Who was this woman and was there a story behind these nearly century-old photographs? Excited that some of the films were able to be recovered, the men gave each other a peculiar look after seeing the final photograph. It seemed that this picture contained the answers to some of the questions they had about the mysterious woman.
The Fourth Photograph
Contrary to the others, the fourth photograph had an elderly gentleman in the foreground. The man held a carry case for the camera and it would seem that he was the original owner of the camera and the person who took the pictures of the woman. Both Martijn and Johan looked at each other, delighted that their work had yielded some sort of results. Ultimately, they were however still left with a couple of nagging questions about the mysterious pair in the negatives.
Turning To Social Media
The photographs may have been taken in a time of little to no technology, but these days social media was a powerful tool to help unravel mysteries like this. Martijn was first with the idea, deciding that it was a good idea to share the pictures on Facebook, with hopes that they would be shared and new clues would emerge. What if the pair in the photographs met an untimely demise? He pondered whether the mystery might not be best left unspoken instead.
Isolating The Location
After the post had been shared among his circle of friends and their friends, someone commented that they were sure that the pictures were taken in Biarritz in France. Google Street View allowed Martijn to verify this and subsequently more people became convinced of this. It wouldn’t just be this comment that would change the course of the mystery, however. Another commenter would share insights that would change the nature of the discovery altogether.
Recognizing The People
As luck would have it, a Dutch woman called Marion Jurrjens actually recognized the people in the photographs as soon as she saw them. They were none other than her own grandparents, Theo Lammers and Elisabeth Lammers-Beveling. Marion had been told that her grandparents had visited Biarritz with his wife at one point, and family members verified this story. Martijn knew what he had to do after this came to the fore.
Getting The Pictures Back To The Family
While Marion was originally from the Netherlands, at the time of the discovery she was living in Canada. Martijn really wanted to deliver the photos to her in person but knew it would be a costly operation to do so. Deciding to try his luck, he set up a GoFundMe account to help cover the travel costs, and so the pictures could be reunited with Marion and her family. In no time at all, donations started pouring in, and Martijn was closer to his goal of traveling to Canada for the delivery.
Reunited At Last
Before long, Martijn was able to make the trip to Canada, in order to reunite Marion and her family with these long lost photographs of her grandparents. To say she was excited about the reunion is an understatement, and the family prepared a dinner party in order to commemorate the moment. Marion was thrilled with the pictures as soon as she laid eyes on them, thanking Martijn for his dedication in getting it back to her. She joked about trying to find a good spot on the wall for the pictures (she is a painter, just like her grandfather), which she appreciated less for their contents, and more for the wonderful journey they had taken from when they were first taken, to now.