Monday, 2 May 2016

Expired Film from Long Ago

"Everything has its time and everything dies", and so it is with photographic film.

But not, surprisingly, the careers of Kerry Katona and Danniella Westbrook. They had their time - very briefly, in the case of Kerry Katona - but it seems that they are destined to remain famous forever. Long after the sun has swallowed the Earth, they will drift through space, like spores. Perhaps one day they will alight on an alien world and come to life again, or perhaps they will survive the gradual heat death of the universe to become the monobloc - the duobloc - from which a new universe arises. A universe birthed of two mothers. It will be called Dannatona, although no-one will ever know this.

Photographic film. It expires. Entropy claims it. Slow black and white film can survive for many years, fast colour film mutates quickly, slide film dies, and in between there is a spectrum. The weather was nice so I decided to grab some films from a box in the bottom of my wine cellar and see what they were like. I put them in my Yashica Mat and had a stroll.

About a year ago I bought a bunch of Kodak Plus-X Pan Professional that had expired in 1977. Plus-X was launched in the 1950s and discontinued in 2011. No-one missed it much. It had none of the character of Tri-X or the technological acumen of T-MAX. It was an unexceptional black and white film with flat tonality, bought and shot in bulk by boring professionals.

All the black and white shots in this post were taken with Plus-X. After experimenting with exposure I settled on ISO 10, but even then the film base had a distinctive texture that looks like wood grain. I developed it - a lot - with Rodinal.

The other roll I shot is harder to pin down. It was colour negative film, and the code suggests that it belongs to the old Vericolor family, but it doesn't appear in any of the tables available on the internet. I shot it at ISO 64 but I suspect no amount of exposure compensation would make it good. The dyes in colour film age at different rates, and this particular roll seems to have been light-struck.

Why did the light affect just that stripe? I have no idea. On the whole both the colour and the black and white film are destroyed equally, but the Plus-X is destroyed in a consistent way. There was a fad in the 1970s for having your body frozen just before you died, so that you could be revived in the future. I think it's safe to say that those people are never coming back. Presumably they will be defrosted and cremated at some point; it will be a gruesome process. Whatever remains of their brains will be as scrambled as the Plus-X.

Perhaps it's easier to imagine that instead of being creatures that are born into a universe that exists outside us, we are instead universes of our own.

In comparison I shot some ordinary, in-date Fuji 400, and it looked like this:

"They call you little mouse by name in Rome and Turin"

EDIT: This image was shot many months later, several miles away - they're like llamas.

American readers are probably thinking "what is that car?". It's a Nissan Figaro, a retro-styled compact from the 1990s that was generally only sold in Japan, South East Asia, and Europe. Despite being made in very limited numbers it's a common sight in the UK because they're reliable and people look after them. The design has aged exceptionally well and future archaeologists will be puzzled by it, the end.