Found Film: SEM Semflex / Ilford FP3

February, and so far I’ve managed to keep at least one of my New Year’s Resolutions; I haven’t bought any any more cameras. I really have all the ones I need. However, I did spend some money getting one of my Mats and both my Mamiya 645s repaired, and as a result can wholeheartedly recommend Miles Whitehead.

The last camera I bought was towards the end of 2014, a SEM Semflex Standard II. There’s not a great deal of information available about Semflex cameras, and they seem largely unknown outside of France. That may have been one of the reasons why I bought it, but the main reason was that I’m a cheapskate and the price was low. An unusual TLR for £25 was just too tempting for me. Anyway, with the help of this page, I’m pretty confident I’ve correctly identified it as the Standard T950 Type 2, which dates it to 1950-1955.

Now, my life is empty enough that getting a camera that’s over fifty years old is very exciting. I can’t help thinking about all the pictures that it might have taken, the family events that have been recorded with it, and of course what circumstances led to it being abandoned and sold to me.

But there was more excitement to come….

What I hadn’t initially realised and couldn’t tell until I opened the back was that that there was a roll of medium format film inside. Fortunately, it was fully wound on to the take- up spool, and the sticky tape thingy (does that have a name?) had been stuck down. It turned out to be a roll of Ilford FP3, and a quick google revealed that FP3 was discontinued in 1968. So chances are the film was exposed before that. OK, now I was really excited, although when I thought about it seemed that the chances of any images surviving were remote. Roll film is a lot easier to ruin than 35mm, and who knows when in the last fifty years the roll was wound on to the take-up spool, and how many times the back may have been opened mid-roll before that.

Shot with Yaschica Mat / Kodak Tri-X

When it came to developing, it seemed obvious that stand development in Rodinal was the way to go. Who even knows what the standard development time for FP3 should be? And on top of that, this roll of film was at least fifty years old and had been shot in a meter-less camera, probably by an amateur with little skill at guessing exposures. Stand development is a technique I nearly always use for Tri-X in my Yashica Mat, always with excellent results, and it seemed like the best chance to get something out of this roll.

SEM Semflex Standard II / Ilford FP3 / Developed in 1+99 for 60 mins

Of the twelve potential frames, the above three shots were the only images I retrieved. The rest of the film was completely blank. It could that be only three shots were ever taken, but who knows?

Nevertheless, these three images are very exciting to me. It’s hard to say (and I’m certainly no expert) but I’d hazard a guess they date from the early sixties. I see a family resemblance and my guess is the first photo shows the parents and their son, and the second picture his wife. From the third photo, it would seem there’s some sort of sailing regatta going on. I have no idea where these photos were taken, (possibly France given the origin of the camera) but I’m sure that anyone who does know this place would recognise it, particularly from the background details in the first two shots.

What I find incredible is that the people, these moments, have for the last fifty years been neither real nor unreal, and now they’ve been brought fully to live. In my mind I think of them like Schrodinger’s Cat, and developing the film has collapsed the wave function and made them solid.