This instalment of the blog isn’t about Venice, nor about mobile phone photography, some may be relieved to hear! No, it’s a little bit of a trip down memory lane that needs to be read in conjunction with this episode that I wrote back in September 2013 . I’ll pause for a bit while you have a quick read.
Right. With me? We’re in the Dolomites, visiting the area around the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. It’s strange, but perhaps revealing in the light of events I’ll relate here, that I didn’t mention at all in that blog you’ve just read what camera gear I was carrying that particular day. Why strange? Because there have not been many days when I have toted a full medium format film camera outfit up into the the high parts of the Dolomites. For the thick end of 10 years, mine has been a Bronica GS-1 6cm x 7cm set-up, with a full complement of lenses, and spare film backs. For sheer pack-weight alone the stuff ought to have got a mention back then.
The camera body, when mounted with the loveliest wide angle lens in the world, the Bronica 50mm job made for the GS, plus a viewfinder prism and a film back, sits on the scales at almost 3 kilograms The whole thing is big, heavy and made to last. The 50mm lens takes a 95mm filter. I often comment that, in extremis, you could eat a meal off one of those. So, take it from me: whether it’s in transit in a rucksack on your back, or ready for action on a strap over your shoulder, you certainly know you have it with you.
6 x 7 frames on 120 roll film means just 10 frames to a spool of film before the cumbersome job of changing film begins. It’s all proper “old-school” photography.
Now, fast forward to a couple of weeks into 2018. For one reason or another, the Bronica hadn’t seen too many outings for a couple of years. I’d not made it to Venice for a couple of years, where I simply love to use it. My running commitments, and injury related to these (!) had kept me off the mountains too often, and such other trips away I’d fitted in had tended to be lightweight affairs, constrained by what could realistically be carried by one or two people on a motorbike.
I had promised my other half that I’d seriously get down to some medium format photography this year. Why was it an issue of concern to her? Well, my stock of medium format roll film all lives in our fridge or the freezer at home and, let’s admit it, some of it had been in there quite a while. So, there came a day when I decided to give the whole Bronica outfit a good inspection and clean. I was impressed how it all still looked – for a film camera from the mid 1980s. I bought mine as a pretty large kit that I’ve added to over time, back in about 2001. I bought it from an old gent in North London, who had used it pretty much exclusively for taking shots of sample perfume bottles for the business he ran. It hadn’t, as a result, had anything like the hard life that might otherwise have been its fate. It was all in its original boxes and had possibly never even been used out of doors!
Suitably cleaned, I went to put everything back in the big camera rucksack it lives in/ At at the last moment, I decided that “if a job’s worth doing…etc”, the bag needed a clean as well. Its interior is made up of adjustable modular compartments etc, fitted to a surrounding frame. I took out all the compartments and, to my big surprise, found two film cassettes tucked away deep in the recesses of the base of the bag. I always cary my roll film in plastic cassettes made from two of the things 35mm film used to come in, stuck together with tape. It was two of these that were playing hide and seek.
Now, I had no idea at all a) how long they’d been there, b) whether they were used, c) what might have been on them if they were, and d) whether the passage of time was going to mean they’d come back spoiled from the developers. The second point was quickly resolved. Yes, they were used rolls of colour negative film. 120 film ends with a piece of adhesive tape that secures it tightly on the plastic film spool when finished. On both, the adhesive tape was neatly in place. What was missing was any identification on or in the cassettes as to when the stuff had been shot. I’m normally pretty good at adding something like that, but not for these.
Those great people at Peak Imaging, in Stockport, replied to my e-mail about my chances of getting images from these films with optimism. Provided the films had been stored dry, they should be ok if they were, say, about three to five years old. I’d guessed that this might have been their age, but I had no idea at all how old the films had been when I used them.
Why so? Well, in about 2008, an old professional photographer friend and mentor of mine had given up the game through ill-health, and I’d bought his remaining stocks of roll film from him. I’d actually bought the small freezer he kept it all in too, but we had no sensible room at home for that, and pretty soon the film all got transferred to our domestic freezer and kitchen fridge. We’re talking about perhaps 100 rolls of film all told. It had all been kept immaculately before I got it, so I wasn’t worried to see that some of it was at the point (back then) of date-expiring. Thus, if I’d used the film in, say, 2012, it might already have been 4 years out of date, and then spent the best part of five years hiding in a never-before-visited corner of my camera rucksack. How it had actually found its way there, goodness knows.
So, the films went off to Peak Imaging, and returned in the post a couple of days later. Joy of joys: the negatives looked crisp and full of detail. And I could tell immediately that the photos on both rolls were of the Dolomites. Now, you’ll maybe be ahead of me by now, and I’m getting a bit slow, but it wasn’t until I’d run a couple of frames through my film scanner and studied them on screen that it dawned on me – these were the rolls of film I must have shot on that irritating day in September 2013 that I directed you to read about when I started this piece.
Why I’d not missed them at the end of the day I shot them, I do not know. Why I seem to have no recollection of even having shot them at all is even more of a mystery. All I can suppose is that the events of that day had annoyed me so much that I’d pretty much blanked them by the time I next got the Bronica out to use. And how the films had become mislaid in the lining of the camera rucksack must forever remain a complete enigma.
It’s all been a bit like finding money down the back of the sofa. It’s also given me the reassurance that properly stored colour negative film, even if about four years out of date when shot, and even if then left undiscovered for at least that same amount of time again, will return good results without any of the forensic techniques you might have read about not long ago, when they salvaged film from an early Antarctic expedition.
Nevertheless, I’m not banking on my good luck holding indefinitely, so I will be making a while lot more use of my Bronica outfit over the next few months – at very least until my present ancient stocks of film are used up.
Added note. I later realised that this isn’t the first chapter of this blog that covers stuff related to lost film. I am trying not to make a habit of it!