RICHMOND, Va. -- Meagan Abell of Richmond hits the thrift stores three times a week if she can. "It's my therapy," says the young wedding and portrait photographer. She was digging through a box of old photos in a booth at Heritage Antiques in South Side when she stumbled across some old 2-1/4 format transparencies that caught her eye.
"I think it was just because they were so out of place in a boxful of prints," she recalled. When she held them up into the light, the girl who always wanted to be Nancy Drew knew she had found her mystery.
"You don't often see women in '50s style dresses walking into the ocean. We want to find who the photographer is, who the women are . . .
They are so striking I need to know where they came from and how they ended up on the East Coast when they look like they were shot in California."
Abell's sleuthing doesn't just include a magnifying glass, but social media as well. Her Facebook posts about her quest has been shared thousands of times as she encouraged others use the hashtag #FindTheGirlsOnTheNegatives.
The tips have been coming in hot and heavy. Many believe the images look like they were shot on the west coast.
We took them to renowned Richmond art photographer Thomas Daniel for his opinion. "That reeks of the late '50s," he said of the photographic style and the film type.
"That guy has to be a little bit crazy," he said of the photographer as he studied the old images. "He's got her walking in the water with a dress on - he's looking for something to add a third element of surprise that separates regular photography from art." He noted that the images weren't portraits, since the women pictured (models?) were mostly facing away from the lens.
Quite unusual is the transparencies, all stored in the same type of glassine sleeves, had no manufacturer name on the edges, or frame number or letter. All that's visible is an apparent lot number, the same on every strip of images.
Daniel complimented the photography, saying the transparency medium is completely unforgiving in terms of exposure. "So it's like a magazine shoot to me," he said, pointing out how the subject was off center - unusual for the time - perhaps leaving room for magazine headlines and content information.
We returned to Heritage Antiques and sifted through the box of prints, finding two more strips from the same oceanfront shoot, and another different strip showing a man at a microphone (a concert or auction?) that was on the same format film and in the same glassine sleeve, but marked as Kodak. The same photographer on another shoot. A possible clue?
The store owner had no idea where the film came from. Neither did the woman whose items filled that booth.
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