Anton Orlov, a San Diego based collector of vintage photography equipment, recently visited an antique shop where he purchased a unique French stereoscopic camera called a Jumelle Bellieni. While he was cleaning the device — and much to his surprise and delight — it contained eight undeveloped photographs taken in France during the First World War.
All images courtesy Anton Orlov; top image shows an officer investigating the ruins of a destroyed French village.
Orlov, who blogs at The Photo Palace, is no stranger to such discoveries. Back in 2005 he found a larger collection of photos taken during the Russian Revolution. "I absolutely love finding images that likely have never been seen by anyone in the world," he writes.
This image shows a house that has collapsed and fallen into a river. Perhaps not surprisingly, the photographs capture much of the devastation wrought by the Great War.
In regards to the new discovery, Orlov describes how it all unfolded:
When I got home I was anxious to figure out everything about the inner workings of this camera. First order of business was to clean it. Everything in the collection that was acquired by that store is covered with a thick layer of dust and grime and it took quite a few Armorall wipes to get the leather to gain a presentable look. Then came the Carl Zeiss lenses - I carefully took them apart and wiped them to the best of my ability. I can't say they are in great shape, but at least I got the majority of fog off of them. I started to run out of things to clean on the outside of the camera, which naturally made me wonder what it looks like on the inside. After a good while of looking for the back release I realized that there is none present entire back can be slid to one side. The plate pressure springs jumped out at me like a couple of live and angry rabbits (the Monty Python And The Holy Grail kind). Naturally I thought something was awry as I am not yet used to camera parts charging in attack mode. Luckily I soon realized that I was out of the danger zone and that the two parts acted as they should have been expected to. Here is where things got incredibly interesting.
Soldiers investigate the ruins of a crashed biplane.
Inside each film chamber I found a stack of neat little glass plate holders (12 total). While 4 of them were empty the rest contained the original thin plates of glass. The last thing that I ever expected to find though were negative images on those plates! Each of them seem like they were fully developed! The glass is clear (I am not sure if dry glass plates had antihalation backing on them and am in touch with an expert to try to find that out) in the dark areas and fully exposed and dark in the light areas. I am completely baffled by this find, but the images were so intriguing that I decided to scan them.
Two soldiers proudly display a rather large bomb amid the clutter of what appears to be a destroyed ammunition site.
UPDATE: As readers have pointed out, the camera did not contain film, but plates — hence Orlov's claim that the pics were already "developed."