This story starts in the garden outhouse of a colleague, who earlier this year was doing some renovation work in the Bordeaux-Caudéran ...

Finding the little boy in the old photograph

This story starts in the garden outhouse of a colleague, who earlier this year was doing some renovation work in the Bordeaux-Caudéran residence she moved into in 2017. She came across a small metal Kodak Plus-X 35mm camera film canister. On the lid it was specified that the film was to be developed by October 1955. She opened the box and found a long roll of negatives inside. 

Her natural reaction was to head to a nearby camera shop to get the negatives converted into digital files, and what emerged from the film were no less than 51 priceless pictures: family photos at home, out on picnics and relaxing on the beach in Arcachon, pictures of Caudéran and Mérignac covered in deep snow, and what appears to be a child’s birthday party. There were also lots of cars and family pets!
When my colleague showed me and others her unexpected finds, I instantly thought of the subject as a potential Invisible Bordeaux item. And when she showed us this incredible Robert Doisneau-like scene of a kid and an adult sitting on the bumper of a car, I realised that the logical challenge was to track down that child 65 years down the line! Where could he be and where could we start? 

The previous occupiers of the Caudéran house had acquired the property in 2000. The related paperwork noted that the sellers at that time had been one Jacqueline D. and her two children Jean-Claude D. (born 1948 in Talence, residing in Draguignan, south-eastern France) and Christine Marie D. (born 1956 in Bordeaux, residing in Louviers, northern France). Cross-referencing with many of the photos featuring a little boy, including the two birthday party pictures where the cake sported seven candles, there was a fair chance that that little boy was Jean-Claude who, over time, could conceivably have become one of the owners of the property. 

I had instant dreams of triggering a massive search on social media but instead chose the old-school “pages blanches” online telephone directory, and soon tracked down a Jean-Claude D. in a town some thirty kilometres from Draguignan, and sent a message providing a brief explanation of what had been found. Later that same day, my phone rang, and it was one Stéphane D., confirming that, yes, it was his dad on the photos.

This 1955 picture of the seafront in Arcachon was among the finds 64 years down the line!
He explained that the house had originally belonged to Stéphane’s great-grandparents (i.e. Jean-Claude’s grandparents), and Stéphane himself had fond childhood memories of the house and the surrounding area. In the 1950s, the young Jean-Claude would spend his holidays there with his parents, and activities were captured as stills by his father, a keen amateur photographer. I promised to send Stéphane the pictures, which he would then show his dad. I zipped the files and sent them to him. 

The next day, my phone rang once again, and this time it was Jean-Claude himself calling from south-eastern France. He was suitably delighted with the surprise package and to be discovering these photos almost 65 years after they were taken. We quickly established that the place where the canister had been found had been the location of the darkroom where his dad developed his own photos. Viewing the pictures, most of the faces were familiar and Jean-Claude recognized family friends, uncles and aunts, not to mention the cousins alongside him in the pictures that immortalized his seventh birthday celebrations! 

Jean-Claude's seventh birthday party in October 1955! Check out the lovely radio in the background.
Jean-Claude pointed out that the pictures of snowbound Caudéran were taken in the winter of 1956, which was one of the coldest spells on record in France and throughout much of Europe. He also mentioned that the picture of a new-born baby was that of his sister Christine, in the arms of their uncle and aunt. 

Finally, the picture which had triggered the quest was of him with a friend of his father, somebody he remembered as being a good-natured “clown” and who, upon closer inspection of the photo, was clearly enjoying a monster-sized ice cream. The car behind them was a now-classic Renault 4CV. Of course, for this mission to be truly accomplished we really needed to be able to finish off this report with a photo of Jean-Claude today posing in a similar way against a car. I have therefore requested a 2019 remake of that picture which had remained hidden away for all those years and hope to be able to add it to this report sometime in the future. To be continued? 

Anyway, there you have it, the story of how finding an old roll of film resulted in an interesting  small-scale investigation! One final thought: now that we are very much in the midst of a digital age, will future generations launch into similar quests upon coming across old USB drives and memory cards? Will digital data survive as long as those negatives did? We’ll see in sixty years’ time… so, to paraphrase Disco 2000, the famous Britpop-era hit by Pulp, let’s all meet up in the year 2080!  

> Big thanks to Agnès for sharing the photos and to Stéphane and Jean-Claude for filling in the gaps! 
> Cet article est également disponible en français !

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