Monday 30 August 2010

Expired Film: Unpredictable Art

(c) 2010 Seymour Jacklin

The greatest expense of analogue photography is not equipment or film but developing costs. I estimate that with what I have spent on developing in the last year I could have bought a top-of-the-range DSLR - but I’m not complaining. I still wouldn’t have it any other way.

One of the ways I try to keep costs down is by buying expired film on Ebay. My reasons for doing this are not only financial (there is really no need to pay more than a dollar for a roll of film) but also artistic. Using expired film adds yet another element of excitement and surprise to photography.

Woodland TendrilsFilm will keep extremely well if properly looked after. Black and white film is more reliable than colour film as it ages but I have seen excellent results from properly kept film that is even six or  seven years out of date. However, particularly when buying from e-bay, you can never be completely certain how much degradation there may be on an expired roll and this can sometimes yield unexpected results. Typically there is some loss of certain colours, depending on the emulsion or more grain. 

The most extraordinary results I ever got back are seen in the examples illustrating this post. The roll was a 2003 branded roll of ISO200 “Dixons” film. Every single frame came back with these filligree like branching patterns that looked more organic than purely chemical. My best guess is that some moisture had entered the casing and a rare mould had spread its tendrils over the emulsion. One commenter on Flickr likened it to lens mold in appearance.

Has anyone seen this before or can anyone offer an alternative explanation? I wish I could replicate it at will but that’s one of the joys of shooting on old film - every shot is such a combination of variables, from exposure settings right down to the molecular level of the film surface, making it even more unrepeatable.

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