While thrift-shopping a few weeks ago, Richmond Virginia based photographer Meagan Abell stumbled on a set of negatives encased in plastic sleeves, sitting in a box of old vintage photographs. When she took them home and scanned the negatives, she was blown away by what she found. In luscious color, the photographs show two women at sunset on a beach looking out to sea. Able was intrigued, not just by the ethereal quality of the photos, but also by their subjects – who were these women?
From the style of the women’s dresses, Abell first deduced that the images were created in the 1940s or 50s. But aside from an out-of-focus stretch of coastline in the background of a few of the photos, she had no other clues. The owner of the thrift shop in Richmond, Virginia who sold Abell the negatives wasn’t able to tell her anything about them. So on Wednesday, Abell enlisted the help of the internet. She posted the photos to her Facebook page using the hashtag, #FindTheGirlsOnTheNegatives. In just two days, the photos have gone viral, racking up over 13,000 shares on Abell’s original post alone, and catching the attention of photographers, curious onlookers, and media outlets.
A few promising leads have come in. Abell discovered that the “negatives” are actually slide film transparencies, which in the 1950s would have been pricey. She’s guessing that the photographer might have been a professional, possibly shooting for a magazine assignment. Abell told Elle Magazine that she’s also heard from professional photographers, some of whom are reaching out to their contacts in the industry. Clues have begun to surface about the location of the idyllic beach setting where the photos were shot. One woman was able to line up her own photos with the slides, and found an almost perfect match with a coastline near Palisades Del Rey, California. And as of this morning, Abell believes she’s found a more exact location: Dockweiler Beach in Los Angeles.
This isn’t the first time a set of mysterious negatives has given rise to an online hunt. Six years ago, a man purchased a box of negatives and unknowingly discovered the photos of the nanny Vivian Maier, who is now considered one of the greatest street photographers of all time.
As of this writing, the mystery of the women in the photos hasn’t been resolved. Those with with ideas can email Abell here. We’re hopeful that Abell’s detective efforts will turn up answers about the lives of the women in the photographs. But even if their identities remain unknown, the women pictured have still managed to captivate, perhaps because the internet just can’t resist a good mystery.