For many, a great thrift find is a vintage dress or lamp. For Kati Dimoff, 38, it was an old camera containing an undeveloped roll of incredible photos of the deadly 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption in Washington.
“A few years ago, I found my first roll of undeveloped film during a search, and I’ve been checking for them ever since,” Dimoff says.
Now, every time the Portland, Oregon photographer is in the Southeast part of the city, she swings by a Goodwill store to survey their donated cameras for undeveloped rolls of film. When she finds them, she takes them to Blue Moon Camera, one of the last labs in the U.S. to process old or discontinued film.
In May, Dimoff bought an Argus C2 camera, which was made around 1938. Inside, she discovered a damaged roll of Kodachrome slide film, and as was her ritual, she brought the roll to the lab.
The results were stunning.
“There was a note on the package that said, ‘Is this from the Mt. St. Helens eruption?” Dimoff recalls.
On May 18, 1980, Washington’s Mount St. Helens erupted, causing an enormous avalanche that killed 57. Twenty-seven bodies were never found, and volcanic ash fell as far as Minnesota.
It is considered the most destructive volcanic eruption in U.S. history.
Some of the developed photos show the mountain in the distance, with small puffs of ash as it started to erupt.
“The [Lewis and Clark Bridge is] in view, so it must have been shot from just off Highway 30,” Dimoff says.
Two photos show a larger cloud of ash, with John Gumm Elementary School in the foreground, in St. Helens, OR.
Another photo shows a family in a backyard.
After publishing her find in The Oregonian, Dimoff says a man named Mel Purvis contacted her.
He identified the young man in the photo as himself with his wife, Karen, their then-baby son, Tristan, and Mel’s late grandmother, Faye.
The owner of the camera, as it turns out, was Faye.