Ghost In The Machine

shells_During our trip in May to New Zealand, I found my uncle’s old Pentax Spotmatic in a wardrobe where it had lain unused for years. Batteries for the light meter are now unobtainable, so I decided to try the sunny F.16 rule in place of the light meter. Next came the decision of which film to use. I went with Ilford XP2 for the ease and speed of developing. Although Ilford XP2 is a black and white film it can be developed in a colour photo machine at the local one hour photo lab. The black and white negatives can even be printed on colour paper, although the pictures have a colour cast tending to sepia or pink.

So, after running the film through the camera and being very unsure of whether the sunny F.16 rule worked, it was off to the colour lab. Once the film was developed, I eagerly looked through the scans. And was shocked to see the results.

The sunny F16 rule worked a treat, but the shots in the middle of the film looked as though they had been struck by lightning. I suspected bad washing during the developing process. The photo lab responsible for the processing examined the film and their verdict was that the film was still wet when it was draped on the rack during processing—hence only the frames where the draped film touched the rack were effected. It was this contact with the rack whilst wet that scraped the film emulsion and created a grungy ghostly effect.

The effect is impressive, although not to be repeated—on purpose. This roll of film was just a test, to see if my uncle’s camera could be revived, so I can take these as a happy accident. However had I shot a wedding or captured Bigfoot  (better still—shot Bigfoot at a wedding) and the film had been ruined, well there would be no second chance.

However, to look for a silver lining in all this, my destroyed film is a designer’s gold. It is ironic that this type of bone fide processing error has become something to emulate and simulate in digital photography and graphic design. Nostalgia for the days of film and manual developing after decades of digital perfection has created a glut of apps and filters to mimic the “old family album” vibe. The digital distressing of images to mimic what went wrong in processing has given rise to a a grungy aesthetic where designers want to put the human touch back into digital design.

To carry our friendly  iPhone v camera rivalry to the realm of the ruined, Mrs. DW has promised a post to riff on my photo lab’s mistake using some apps and filters and her trusty iPhone.

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