The light from the bulb makes everything in the room red. He needs to be careful, or the negatives will be ruined, and he will never be able to get them back. He holds his breath as he sways the tank back and forth.
The process is slow, but he doesn’t want to rush it. Once the waiting time is over, he unspools the reel again. He looks at the outline and starts to shake, unsure of what he has just discovered.
Love Of Photography
Native to the Netherlands, Martijn van Oers had fallen in love with photography when he was a young boy. Old photographs fascinated him, but the darker-themed ones drew him in the most.
He was 12 years old when he was gifted his first camera. That was one of the happiest moments of his life. Some found it strange that his mother worried about him, but she had reason to be.
Not Like The Others
Martijn was a child like no other. While other boys his age spent time with friends and ran around, he preferred his own company. He had made collecting old photographs a hobby of his.
The streets of Breda were filled with old, dilapidated buildings, which he was fond of photographing. His mother was shocked when she found out he frequented abandoned places, seeming to have grown obsessed with what she would call disturbing. It didn’t seem to get better as he grew older.
Martijn had gathered so many photographs by the time he was a teenager that he could cover his bedroom walls from floor to ceiling. No gap was left uncovered, but his mother didn’t seem to smile at the feat. She said that the images weren’t happy ones.
They showcased the dark side of the town they lived in. He had taken a few with his camera, but his collection was primarily thanks to thrift stores. Years later, he came across an old camera and had to take it home with him.
A Few Minutes To Spare
It was 2017 when Martijn spent a morning walking through the town. It wasn’t long before he found himself at the local thrift store. He knew he couldn’t spend too long inside but thought that a few minutes looking through the vintage photographs wouldn’t hurt.
Nothing on the shelves had caught his eye, so he decided to leave. He was a few steps away from the door when something else grabbed his attention.
A vintage camera sat on the lowest shelf, and Martijn couldn’t help but look closer. He could tell this camera was remarkable, considering it was a Zeiss Ikon 520/20 and in excellent condition.
As far as he could tell, this camera had never seen a hint of damage. He could not leave it behind. It would make for a beautiful gift he could give to his wife. But Martijn had no way of knowing what would accompany him and the camera.
Martijn spoke in an interview and described his wife's happiness when he gave her the camera. He confessed that he had considered using the camera for himself because it seemed to have been well looked after and the mechanisms still worked.
“I use high-end gear for most of my photos, so it was a nice change of pace to work with an old-school piece like that,” he said. But he could never have anticipated finding something so life-changing.
Opening It Up
Martijn had been excited by his find and wanted to understand how the camera worked. But he found something unexpected when he opened the camera up.
“I opened it up to see if the wheels still turned smoothly and if it still worked. I never thought there would still be a roll inside,” he said. He had no idea how special that roll would become.
Was He Ready?
Martijn could tell that he held a real-life horror story in his hands. He had to ask himself if he was ready for the photos to be developed.
Once he saw them, they would be part of his memories forever. He would never be able to turn back the clock and unsee them. But that thought did nothing to keep him from getting the answers to the questions plaguing his mind. He would get them no matter what the cost.
Considering Martijn’s teen life had brought along a deep fascination for the macabre, he was no stranger to the story about the man who had tormented Hanover in the 1920’s - Fritz Haarmann.
During the years 1918 and 1924, 27 teens and children disappeared. Martijn learned he had had a camera when reading through one of his personal journals. Having a camera in those times was a luxury, but his had never been uncovered.
Could what Martijn had in his hands be the missing camera? After all, Hanover was only a hop, skip and jump away.
The thought was terrifying. Worse still, the roll of film inside could be scarring. Did he really want to toy with the possibility that the camera could have belonged to a serial killer?
Martijn thought long and hard before he made a decision. Should he hand the camera in to the authorities? Or should he try to develop them before he did anything too hasty?
Was he overreacting? But, in the end, he knew that he simply had to know what was on the camera's roll of film.
A Used Film
He looked carefully at the roll of film again. The words "EXPOSE" were emblazoned on its side. “I thought that probably meant that the roll has been exposed and used,” he explains.
Martijn knew that the camera was old, but just how old was the roll of film? He began to research, searching for the brand of film, and the year it was made. And the date he arrived at sent a chill down his spine.
A Piece Of History
“I found out the camera was built around 1924,” Martijn said. That would make the camera at least 89 years old. The age of the film made it unlikely that any of the images would have survived for so many years, but Martijn knew he had to try.
He called his friend Johan Holleman, an experienced photographic developer, but the news wasn’t good.
Johan told him that it would be extremely difficult to develop the old film, but after some persuasion, he agreed to try.
It seemed that the mystery of what images lay in wait was just too great for him to pass up. But could the photographs have survived so many decades? There was only one way to find out.