When Martijn van Oers stumbled across a vintage camera in a Dutch thrift store, the photography enthusiast within him no doubt did a little jig. But what lay inside was even more fascinating. Indeed, after taking the old camera home, he found an old roll of film, and it led him on an incredible adventure of discovery.
But before we delve into van Oers and his amazing discovery, let’s talk a little about the importance of photography itself. Indeed, before cameras and film, events were captured through the written word or illustration. But thanks to photography, family memories and world events have had their visuals captured for all of us to see.
Photographs have become so precious to us, and it’s not hard to see why. For they provide snapshots of our pasts and links to our family members, some of whom may no longer be around. And as a result, they are invaluable to many.
However, even prized possessions like photographs can become lost in the passing of time. A family album may be misplaced in a home move, wrecked in a household mishap or simply disposed of by someone who doesn’t realize the true value of the item. And in some cases, photos may never be reunited with their rightful owners.
Given the value people attach to photos, finding someone else’s snaps can be an emotional discovery. And many people in this position experience an overwhelming desire to figure out who the images belong to in an attempt to return them to their owners. Indeed, one person who knows that feeling all too well is Dutch man Martijn van Oers.
Van Oers lives in the city of Breda, in the Netherlands. And as a photographer, he is naturally somewhat of a camera enthusiast. So when he spotted an original Zeiss Ikon 520/2 at a local second-hand store, it caught his attention. The camera looked practically unused, and so van Oers decided that he had to have it.
Indeed, Van Oers believed that the vintage camera would make the perfect gift for his wife. He told the Daily Mail in 2017, “When I came home and gave the camera to my wife as a gift, she was over the moon. After dinner I told her I was considering using the camera to take pictures with, since all the mechanics from the camera seemed to be in pristine condition.”
Being an avid photographer, van Oers wanted the old camera as it was different to his day-to-day kit. He continued, “I normally shoot all my photos with high-end gear. So working with an old-school piece of equipment seemed like a lot of fun.
So, van Oers was already seemingly happy with his purchase. However, he was yet to discover the camera contained a hidden treasure. Indeed, when he opened it up, he found a roll of film still tucked inside. The film looked old, and it had the word “EXPOSÉ” emblazoned across it.
Meanwhile, van Oers revealed the discovery of the film in 2017 to the Dutch Broadcast Foundation, or NOS. He said, “I wanted to see if the camera still worked, if everything opened and if the wheels were still turning. To my great surprise, there was a roll.” But he was surprised after seeing the word exposé, adding, “I thought that probably meant that the roll has been exposed and used.”
After some research, van Oers was able to put an estimated date of origin on his discovery. He explained to Bored Panda, “I found out the camera was built around 1929 and the film was produced between the 1940s and the 1970s.” And with that in mind, the chances of him developing photos from the old film seemed slim.
Nevertheless, van Oers persisted, and he teamed up with his pal Johan Holleman to help him expose the film. And though his friend is an experienced photographic developer, he warned that they’d have difficulty getting the images. Nevertheless, he agreed to assist van Oers anyway.
With that in mind, van Oers found himself in Holleman’s kitchen one Tuesday afternoon. And upon inspecting the negatives, the men were amazed to see the faint outline of photographs. Somehow, the images had survived the decades, and they wasted no time in processing them.
Meanwhile, developing film can be difficult at the best of times, especially when it is this old. Writing on Bored Panda, van Oers said that the process “requires knowledge, timing, patience, and accuracy.” However, in this case, waiting for the photos to develop was also agonizing for the photographer.
Speaking of the developing process in his interview with NOS, Van Oers admitted, “That was difficult, I am extremely impatient. At the end I even convinced [Holleman] to dry the roll with a hair dryer. That is actually very dangerous, but I had to have those things under the scanner. Fortunately, it had no impact on quality.”
Meanwhile, as the images became more clear, van Oers and Hollerman were stunned to watch history come alive before their eyes. The men had managed to develop four photographs that appeared to show a couple enjoying a vacation many moons ago. And frankly, van Oers was fascinated.
Revealing what he called the “magical process” of developing the old film, van Oers told Bored Panda, “We scanned the negatives and found four images had enough detail in them to tell that the last time this camera was used. It belonged to a man – who’s even in one of the pictures, carrying the camera’s case – who probably brought his expensive piece of gear on one of his travels.”
In one of the faded black-and-white images, a woman is seen posing beside the ocean. To the left of her, it’s possible to make out the water and a bridge in the distance. Behind her lies a stone wall and a boulevard with other people walking along it, possibly also enjoying a day out by the sea.
In another extraordinary snap, what looks like the same woman appears to be walking up a steep promenade. A third image shows her at the beach, while the fourth photograph sees a man reclining against a wall, with a camera case hanging from his shoulder.
So with the photos finally processed, van Oer could now study them to discover their origin. He later told NOS, “We tried to estimate when the picture was taken, but that is a bit of a wet job. Based on the clothing and the scene, it must have been somewhere in the 1940s, ’50s or ’60s.”
Indeed, Van Oer knew that he’d stumbled upon something special, so he decided to share the photographs on Facebook. The images then gained some traction among his followers. And one of the photographer’s acquaintances, known as Wilco, remarked that the location in the image looked remarkably similar to the city of Biarritz, in south-west France.
Indeed, Wilco had traveled to Biarritz a lot, and therefore his suggestion seemed plausible. However, to reinforce his opinion he sent a Google Streetview image to van Oers so that he could compare the locations himself. And it was then that van Oers became convinced that the photographs had indeed been taken in the city.
Thanks to modern technology, it had been pretty easy for van Oers to find the location in which the old photographs had been snapped. And what’s more, it seemed that Biarritz had barely altered through the decades. The Dutch photographer told NOS, “We thought it would take a lot of effort to find out the location. But that was done in half an hour.”
Meanwhile, learning more of the photographs’ story was a thrill for van Oers. He told Bored Panda, “Looking at the images, I feel I stumbled across a small treasure-chest – or time capsule – giving us a tiny glimpse into the past. It really makes me want to find out who the people in the pictures are.”
But while van Oers was eager to discover more information about the precious images in his possession, he wondered whether they would eventually be reunited with their rightful owner. Nevertheless, he remained positive that this was not the end of his journey. He added, “Hopefully, one day, I will be able to hand over these negatives to the descendants of this mystery photographer.”
Amazingly, someone soon reached out to van Oers, claiming to be a relative of the people in the photographs. That person was Marion Jurrjens. And she claimed that the man in the snaps was her grandfather. She revealed that he had visited Biarritz with his wife and daughter, who was also her aunt.
Meanwhile, van Oers explained to the Daily Mail how he’d first heard from Jurrjens. He said, “After I had developed the photographs my one wish was to find the descendants of the people in the pictures and send them the negatives and camera. Three days after the story went viral, I got a message from [Jurrjens].”
Jurrjens is also Dutch, but had moved to Canada in 2004. Indeed, she had initially learned about the images through a Dutch newspaper. And after recognizing her grandfather Theo J. Lammers, his wife, Elisabeth Lammers-Berveling, and her aunt Thea Lammers, she decided to reach out to van Oers.
Indeed, as van Oers had suspected, the camera did indeed belong to the man in the photographs, Jurrjens’ grandfather, Lammers. He had worked as an architect and used photography equipment as part of his job. However, though cameras were extremely expensive then, he also took it away with him to document family vacations.
Meanwhile, seeing the photographs of her relatives was a revelation for Jurrjens. She told the Daily Mail, “When I saw the pictures in the paper I felt that it was really special that the pictures were of them.” But she still wondered how the images had become separated from her family in the first place.
Jurrjens told the Daily Mail, “I began to wonder how the camera came to the thrift shop as my aunt was a hoarder and normally refused to get rid of things. When [she] died in 2003 I emptied her apartment and collected 10 photo albums that belonged to my grandparents and took them to Canada with me. So I instantly recognized them.”
Jurrjens added that her granddad Lammers had been quite the archiver himself. She continued, “My grandfather was also meticulous in everything and wrote the date and place in white ink on the photo itself. Himself, my grandma and auntie traveled extensively and documented all their travels, so I have plenty of pictures of them.”
But while Jurrjens already had lot of family memories, she added there was always room for more. She added, “I love all of the pictures and I would like to keep them all together as that is how they are meant to be. My house is already rather full, since my grandfather was also a painter. But I hope I can find a spot to put them on the wall so I can remember this whole event.”
Meanwhile, Jurrjens inherited a number of valuable items from her grandparents. These included portraits of them, as well as a photographs of them enjoying a picnic by a highway in 1954. However, Jurrjens was in little doubt that the images that van Oers had discovered would make very special additions to her collection of family photographs.
So after linking up, Jurrjens and van Oers kept in regular contact. Furthermore, van Oers planned to return the camera and its contents to her in person. The latter explained to the Daily Mail, “We started to chat on a daily basis. I am hoping that one day I will be able to fly over to her to deliver the negatives and camera myself.”
For van Oers, the discovery of the vintage camera had led to a complete whirlwind of emotions. He went on, “I was so shocked that we had developed a film that’s been untouched inside a camera for decades. And we have been able to find pictures of people on them and then be able to find the descendants. It’s an indescribable feeling.”
Indeed, it seems that van Oers will remember this chapter long after he returns the camera to Jurrjens. However, to ensure he didn’t forget about the photos he’d found, he created a little momento. He elaborated to the Daily Mail, “I have had large prints made of the images and they’re definitely going to go up on a wall in my house.”
Meanwhile, given the personal value of his thrift store find, van Oers said he will never look at old photography equipment for sale the same way again. He continued, “I will be sure to check the inside of any vintage camera I come across from now on. If I find one that’s holding a film, I’ll definitely buy it,” he said.
In order to return the camera to Jurrjens, van Oers then established a crowdfunding page to raise the money for his journey. And in August 2017 he announced that he’d received enough money to for his flight in a Facebook post. He revealed, “So in September I travel to Canada to hand over Marion the camera!”
But while the story of the camera got the happy ending it deserved, van Oers had something he needed to do first. Before jetting off, he had to break the news to his wife that he was taking her beloved gift. He joked to the Daily Mail, “I’m not sure how she’ll react when I tell her I’m giving away her present.”