March 9, 2009 by Allen George
At a recent Flickr meet I made a mistake. The people were interesting, the gear was cool . . . and in the flush of the moment, in the interest of making-friendly, I bought some film. Expired film. Expired color film. Expired high-speed color film. And I made a cardinal mistake while doing it: I didn’t check its provenance.
It was only on my way home that I inspected my purchase.
Kodak Estar AH . . . Hmm . . . Fuji Super HG . . . 800 . . . 1600 . . . Kodak Ektapress 1600 . . . OK . . . Expiry . . . 1997
And then it hit me: what I had just acquired was (in that oh-so-direct Anglo-Saxon expression) crap.
Purchasing expired film is always a bit of a gamble. Film, being chemical in nature, ages. It breaks down and background radiation fogs it. But expired film is substantially cheaper, and, if you’re willing to shoot at a lower speed and live with the loss in contrast and increased grain, is a good way to keep the film addiction going. Now, black and white film degrades more gracefully than color, and low-ISO film lasts longer than high-speed varieties; moreover, the older the film and the poorer its storage, the greater the aging defects. What I had in my hands was high-speed color film 12 years past its prime that looked like it’d been bought at a flea market. It was, euphemistically, project film.
Ahhh . . . project film. The stuff is great if you:
- Have an concept that depends on the character of the medium;
- Require a certain ‘look’ that only destroyed film can give;
- Are masochistic, and have no problem with taking photographs that may, may not, or may-not-quite turn out.
I fell into the third camp.
I rated the film at ISO 50 (a full 5 stops lower for those counting) and took to the streets of Toronto one snowy day to try my project film out. What with the low light and low ISO I was limited to stationary subjects. Very stationary subjects. Even then, some results were even crazier than I’d expected.
Flickr photo page (Headline image)
Flickr photo page (Photo #2)
Flickr photo page (Photo #3)
Flickr photo page (Closer)