All images used with permission from Lewis Watts.
Lewis Watts is a vintage camera collector; and sometimes he goes after cameras with old film inside, develops them, and finds incredible photos. He’s always had a love of photography since buying a Minolta X-300. The excitement of waiting for the film to develop is what he says got him hooked. Eventually, he fell in love with medium format and started to develop B&W film himself. He’s now working with a Wet Plate camera.
In addition to his love of photography, Lewis has had a love of history too. So he started buying cameras from the early 1900s to around the 1960s. If there are rolls inside the cameras, he develops them to see what’s on them. “The only thing is, you never know if somebody has exposed it to light, what conditions it’s been kept it, so it’s very anxious work, because you never know what’s going to come out,” says Lewis. Recently, he came across a roll in a Kodak Brownie with beautiful images of a family and their pets enjoying the winter snow. “The most recent roll, with the couple walking their pets, I really didn’t expect anything because when I bought the Brownie from eBay, there was a photo of the back open with the film in it, and obviously I wasn’t hopeful, but I got 4 frames, which was amazing.”
“Sometimes I look for rolls online to buy, but they can go for a lot of money, and sometimes there’s just nothing there. So I just browse cameras in second hand antique stores to see if there’s any film in them.” explains Lewis. “It was never a plan to actually start doing stuff like this, but my interest in the past, and photography have just led me here, and I love the way that you are uncovering a piece of the past that has never been seen before, it’s something special that’s hard to relate to anything else.”
This all started when Lewis and his girlfriend were visiting her parents in Malmö, Sweden. “We went to a second hand store and there were two folding 120 cameras, that were really cheap, I think about £7.50? So I bought them because one was a Voigtlander Perkeo I, and the other was a Foitzik Foinix.” The Foitzik has a roll of Verichrome Pan film that he unloaded. When he got back to London he started researching developing old rolls. However, Lewis was too scared to do it himself but knew that paying to have it done would cost a ton of money. Despite the fear, he did it anyway and it yielded him some beautiful photos.
“It looked like it was from around 1950/1960, of a boy at a campsite, where I think is somewhere in Denmark.” says Lewis. He was inspired to do it again until he found the Brownie that these images were found in. They came from a roll of Ilford Selchrome Panchromatic. Lewis then contacted Ilford who helped him by giving a guide to the development. He got four frames.
Lewis’s father has been working on a house recently where he had found a suitcase filled with glass plates. One of them was of Winston Churchill–but that one smashed.
“There were two more, of the owner of the suitcases mother in, I think, the 1920s. Also in the case was cine film of the Queen’s coronation, and a couple of sets of film, but they are all stuck together, so I’m currently trying to restore them, and find software to scan the cine film in. In the case was loads of other cool things, the owner of the suitcase, was a son of a cinematographer named Lovat Cave-Chinn, who had worked for the UN, filmed the 1947 London Olympics, Queen Coronation + much more.”