Find the boy: 30yo film in Soviet camera spurs social media quest

When a French photographer bought a second-hand Soviet camera in Moscow, she did not expect to find a roll of film inside. Once developed, pictures of a boy from 1990 inspired her to embark on a ‘Find the Russian boy’ quest on social media. And guess what? She found him.

Elisabeth Blanchet, a French London-based freelance photographer, travels extensively and this summer she visited Russia. Blanchet, a huge fan of cameras, bought one at a flea market in Moscow. Back in France, she realized the camera contained a little bonus inside, an old film that was sitting there for some 30 years.

Blanchet carefully developed the precious photos of the 6-7 year-old boy. “There were 16 black-and-white pictures… Which showed apparently important moments of his [the boy’s] life,” Blanchet told RT.

“I felt very emotional when I saw these pictures because I felt [that it is] a lost memory and it belongs to someone which is not me,” she recalled. “I’ve got to find him [the boy] to give these photos back to him.”

“It’s like when you find a wallet somewhere, and it’s full of things, not only money. But some important things like pictures of your kids, pictures of your driving license from when you are 18.” 

Blanchet initiated a massive internet campaign dubbed, ‘Looking for the Russian boy,’ on her website and on her on social media pages. “Looking at the photos, I came out with this crazy idea: searching for the Russian boy in the photos and give his images back to him,” she wrote on her website in late September.

Her Russian-speaking friends helped Blanchet translate her call into Russian. And the journey to locate the mystery boy was underway. Asked by RT about her ‘success,’ she laughed. “Well, he found me really. I got a WhatsApp message saying ‘I am a Russian boy you are looking for’,” she said.

‘The little boy looked very much like me’

The boy on the film roll turned out to be a Moscow resident Dmitry Kretov. The photos indeed captured a significant moment in his life – his first day in school in 1990, some 27 years ago. Now 33, Kretov says he was quite taken aback when he saw Blanchet’s online campaign earlier in November.

“I was at the airport when my friend sent me a photo of a little boy, who looked very much like me, with a caption saying, "Looking for a Russian boy,” he told RT. There were so many questions. “Where do these photos come from and why is someone looking for me? Who is this Elizabeth and how did she get those photos?”

Recognizing himself in the photos, he got in touch with the photographer first via WhatsApp, then via Skype. “We talked for two hours about everything. She turned out to be a very nice woman.”

Then the pieces of the puzzle finally came together. The camera belonged to Kretov's uncle, an artist. After that school event everyone forgot to develop the photos and the camera had been gathering dust on the shelf for nearly 30 years.

“It turned out that my uncle had given it to his friend to sell at the market [in 2017], but had forgotten to remove the film,” Kretov explained. The rest, as they say, is history – the camera fell in Blanchet’s hands who breathed life into the forgotten camera film.

Amazing coincidence

It was luck, or is it fate, that it was Blanchet, a person who knows how to handle such fragile objects and who cared about the past, who bought the camera, Kretov believes. “I just want to share this amazing story with other people – so that others might realize that our life is not just about politics and death, but includes room for small everyday pleasures.”

The whole tale is seemingly one of amazing coincidence for the two strangers. Both Kretov and Blanchet say it’s a fairytale – 27-year-old photos, two different parts of the world, and, of course, a happy ending.

Blanchet was immediately taken by the idea of returning to Russia next February and visiting the places where the photos were taken. “She has written an amazing film script for this story that's going to be turned into a documentary! I will do my best to help her,” Kretov said.