A Nerd’s World Reclaims Beguiling Visions Of Our Lives From Old Cameras

A Toronto couple has collected more the 250 vintage film cameras and put them on display as a way to breathe new life into the dying art.

For decades, the memories remained tightly coiled inside a 1909 Kodak Brownie. Seven images altogether of what appears to be a group of young friends on a road trip sometime in the 1930s or ’40s.

Inside another Kodak found in Hamilton, Ont., four grainy snapshots of a family posing outside the Kennedy Space Center in Titusville, Florida, likely taken in the early days of NASA’s space exploration history.

“We’re looking at photos that haven’t been seen 50, 60, maybe 70 years,” said Chris Hughes, 34, whose family’s self-admitted obsession with vintage cameras has led them to discover dozens of original, undeveloped rolls of film inside cameras across North America.

Grainy, yet magical, many of the unearthed snapshots of people and times past have become fixtures on the walls of A Nerd’s World, the downtown Toronto “creative space.” That’s where Hughes and wife Grace, 25, run not just a graphic design and photography business, but also a gallery of “found” photos and vintage cameras that they hope will, in a digital age, help breathe new life into the dying art of film photography.

“It’s a serious thing that you fear something you love is going to disappear . . . it’s a nightmare,” said Hughes, who has worked as a photographer for about 15 years.
When they first opened A Nerd’s World about a year ago, Hughes said the couple owned about two dozen vintage cameras and had found only a few rolls of undeveloped film on their various adventures.

Since then, however, the couple has spent nearly every free day driving with their two young sons to far-flung spots across Canada and the U.S, stopping at garage sales, flea markets, antique stores and even barns along the way in search of new additions to the collection.

What has emerged is an eclectic mix of old photographs and a set of vintage film cameras that spans three centuries and no longer fits on the towering shelving unit erected on the shop’s front wall — an impressive collection that has drawn in everyone from OCAD students to professional photographers to Royal Ontario Museum employees.

Among the Hughes’ favourite images are those that accompanied a 3D Richard Verascope stereo camera they bought at an estate sale last year. The camera, believed to have been previously owned by the French government, was used to capture images of French soldiers during World War I and came with a leather satchel full of glass plate negatives from the war.

And though the couple differ on which vintage camera is most prized, the list of favourites include a 1950s Rolleiflex, which was widely used by fashion photographers in the mid- to late-20th century) and a 1950s Hasselblad, the type of camera used to capture the first man on the moon.

Any day now, Hughes expects his next treasure — a Zenit photosniper, a rifle-shaped camera that dates back to the Cold War — to arrive in the mail.

But “the best part” of collecting, said Hughes, is opening a camera to discover the original film still inside.

With about 20 rolls still undeveloped, the Hughes said they decided to develop one roll a week and post the images on their website with details about the camera model and where it was bought. The hope, they said, is to find people able to identify the photos.

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