The title on eBay said āTrash or Treasureā, and for Ā£1 plus postage, I was willing to take a chance on a 30-year-old roll of undeveloped 35mm film.
After all, I remember reading the 2009 story about eBay-er Morace Park who bought a battered old film tin for Ā£3.20 ā because “it had a lovely look to it” ā and ended up with a never-before-seen Charlie Chaplin film that was later valued at Ā£40,000.
The item description read:
‘Do you like a gamble? Answer yes and read on… What we have here is a roll of unprocessed film. Itās still in its original plastic tube and has laid unseen for the past thirty years. Like opening the Holy Grail, you have the opportunity to view what pictures have been caught on film. Worth a gamble… weāll let you decide.’
And I thought, yes, Iāll take that gamble.
Once Iād confirmed my purchase, a real excitement began to build as I contemplated what may lie within.
While I was realistic enough to know that I probably wasnāt going to discover a photographic treasure worth tens of thousands of pounds, like Mr Park had, I hoped at least that I would find an interesting range of images that would make a good subject for this article, and that theyād have that currently-desirable vintage look to make for a pretty pictorial accompaniment to my words.
I was reasonably confident that it would yield something other than trash.
The film arrived in the post on Tuesday, four days after my purchase, and I immediately walked down the high street and put it in for processing.
The man at Snappy Snaps commented on the silver-ended roll: āI havenāt seen one of these for a long timeā, and asked me how old it was.
I told him it was apparently 30-years-old and that Iād bought it on eBay as a bit of an experimental documentary project. I instructed him that even if the images appeared tainted, damaged or otherwise worthless at first glance, that I wanted them all put onto the disc anyway.
He tore off the little strip at the top of the envelope, handed it to me, and told me to come back after 12 oāclock to pick up the results.
That was an hour and a half away, so I returned to my office and fired off an email to the seller, who I shall name only as Eileen:
“I was just wondering if you are able to give me any background details on the film at all, ie: where did you get it? who did it belong to? how do you know it’s 30 years old? etc. I bought the film as a sort of documentary project, as I am a writer and photographer, so any background information you could provide on the film itself would be very helpful.”
The hour of noon came, and I trotted back to Snappy Snaps to pick up my disc and the contact sheet of images. The man who had served me earlier did not make any comment on the results; he just took my money and handed over the envelope.
As I walked back up the road to my office I couldnāt wait, and sneaked a peek at the contact sheet.
And what did I see? A series of amateur soft-porn shots of a blonde woman wearing only black high heels, occasionally using a chair as a prop.
I shut the envelope in an almost embarrassed fashion, as if passers-by might be able to see what I was looking at (they couldnāt, of course).
I suppose it didnāt really come as a total surprise ā I had had a fleeting thought prior to the filmās arrival that porn was a possibility.
At least they had a retro, expired film, light-leak look to them, I reasoned with myself.
As I walked the rest of the way back to the office I wondered who the woman in these pictures could be.
Was it possible that Eileen was an exhibitionist and had bought on old, unused roll of film, shot these images of herself, and listed it under the aforementioned pretence?
A look at her other eBay items revealed a host of slides and vintage photographic paraphernalia and accoutrements, but nothing to reveal any kind of kinky side.
Then, about six hours after I had sent my email to her, Eileen, from East Sussex, replied, saying:
“I really wish I could help you more but all I know is that I bought the films and other goods from someone who found them in a loft. All he knew was that the films must have been stored away for at least 30 years. He had no idea who they belonged to, or anything else. Sorry I canāt help.”
I responded saying that she might be interested and/or amused to know that the film contained pornography; she was shocked and apologised profusely.
I said it was fine; the item description had clearly stated that it was a gamble, after all.
So, while this project of chance didnāt turn out as I had expected, I did at least get this story out of it; and as they say ā one womanās trash is another manās treasure (or pleasure, as the case may be).