“Every Time Someone Points A Camera At You…” think of John Alderton reminding you to send your film off and hope the pictures from your holiday turn out well

The digital revolution has made photography a more accessible hobby than in previous years. Today we can snap away using mobile phones as well as compact cameras, rangefinders and SLRs. Digital memory has enabled us to print our own pictures off, share it on social networking sites. If we’re not happy with the results, we can turn to our friendly photo-manipulation package and remedy them. Or we could stick funny faces, glasses and the like to our portraits.

How I miss the accidental thumbprints, blurs and dark interior shots, caused by some plonker forgetting to put the flashcube on top of their instamatic camera. What we have lost in the digital age is the anticipation of receiving our prints which can vary from excitement to disappointment.

“I’ve got my lipstick and mirror, and my sun tan lotion and camera too…”

A picture of my Kodak Brownie 127
February Spawned a Monster: The Brownie 127 was one of Kodak's most popular models, sold between 1952 and 1967. The 127 refers to the film format used.

Prior to the term of the 19th century, photography meant glass plates, long exposure times and hulking cameras with tripods, almost as heavy as a small child. Suddenly, Eastman Kodak had a great idea and spawned a monster, one February 1900. His Kodak Brownie brought photography to the masses. Its basic ‘point and shoot’ design was a hit with person who wanted a simple camera for taking holiday snaps.

By the 1960s, the Brownie had come a long way from its box origins, with twin-lens style and built-in flash options available. Just to confuse things, no two Brownie cameras took the same film. Whereas its most popular one (seen above) took 127 film, its boxed variants took the wider 120 and 620 films. The Brownie Bantam took 828, the latter film type forming the basis for Kodak’s new Instamatic format 126.

My earliest experience of photography involved instamatic cameras. At home, my usual weapon of choice was a Kodak 36 Instamatic (1972 – 1974) which took 126 film. Pictures were quite saturated and the 126 cartridge was easy for me to load. Then I purchased a Haminex instamatic at a car boot sale. My main reason for purchase was its built-in flash, plus it was similar to my Nana’s model and took 110 film. The results were nowhere near as impressive as the Kodak 36, due to the grainier film. At least I didn’t buy one using Kodak Disc Film whose pictures were as rough as a badger’s behind!

Other than car boot sales, some of us may have had access to cheap photography by means of a disposable camera, or a free one from the local film processing shop.

“I want it now…!”

Prior to digital photography, the nearest most members of the proletariat would get to instant photography was by buying a Polaroid camera. Some of the more adventurous would develop their own films with stop baths, Rodinal and the like. For everyone else, the 1 hour photo place was a viable alternative. If we were strapped for cash, we could have chosen the cheaper 3 day service. Or we could save more money and send them to Truprint or Gratispool.

Today, film processing shops are almost a dying breed. Some, such as Max Spielman, have embraced digital with open arms, though still sell and process film (35mm only). Boots for instance still sells 35mm film, including Ilford XP2 and HP5 and (if you’re lucky) APS film. Some superstore chains continue to sell and process 35mm film. Specialist film processing shops are harder to come by, if you wish to purchase and process 120 film as well as 35mm films.

Tameside used to have a wealth of film processing shops. As well as Boots’ Ashton-under-Lyne store, there was also SupaSnaps, who used to have shops in Stalybridge, Hyde and Droylsden. In Ashton there was also Foto Processing on Market Street (which became Klick Photopoint) and FastFilm on Market Avenue. Cameraz and Powrie’s camera shops on Stamford Street offered the equipment. SupaSnaps used to offer free toy cameras in 126/110 film formats.

I Want It Cheaply

If you couldn’t afford or find your nearest film processing shop, there was always the mail order option. From the 1930s to the early 1980s, Gratispool’s raison d’etre was mail order film processing, in return for free film. They used paper negatives instead of the normal celluloid variety. Almost where Gratispool left off, Truprint did the same, with a cheesy advert plus numerous envelopes in motorway service stations, magazines and supermarkets.

From past experience, Truprint often had better results. At Chez Vallantine, we had tried its competitors and found inferior results with our 126 films; the colour lacked the saturation: Truprint’s films always had vivid colour (rebadged Kodachrome?). So much so that we stuck with Truprint till the early 2000s with our 35mm films.

Today, Truprint no longer process film, though remain in business offering photo gifts to the digital generation. To celebrate its 30 years in business it has encouraged customers to make their own Truprint advert, sharing it on YouTube.

Taking Your Choice

Young photographers don’t know how lucky they are! They can upload their photos onto Facebook, print them off a memory card in Boots or on their own printer. Till recently, we juggled with XD, Compact Flash, Secure Digital, SmartMedia and Memory Stick types of memory card. Though Compact Flash and Memory Stick cards remain popular, Secure Digital seems to be the de facto standard. A trip to Boots or SupaSnaps in the 1990s meant a plethora of film types:

126: launched in 1963 by Kodak adapted from the less successful 828 roll film (20 exposures);

110: its microscopic 16mm equivalent for pocket cameras (20 exposures);

APS: the first film to offer portrait, widescreen and standard orientations, a feature common on today’s digital cameras;

135/35mm: the most common film format in use today: now the sole film format developed in non-specialist film processing shops and superstores (12 – 36 exposures);

120:the oldest format in common use; used in medium format cameras from the Holga to the Hasselblad (8 – 15 exposures per roll);

220: the bigger brother of 120 with twice the number of exposures allowed per roll (16 -30). Also lacked the backing paper of 120 film;

Disc: a real turkey of a film format: 15 grainy exposures on a round film similar to a Tomy 3D-Viewer disc;

127:a roll film format popular with Kodak Brownie users, also used in some Twin Lens Reflex cameras like the Rolleiflex;

620: a cousin of 120/220 though with a different spool fitting. Some 620 cameras can be converted to use 120/220 film.

On a personal level, I use film and digital formats. With digital photography I miss the tactile nature that film allows. Such as winding the film on manually. Such as the rasping noise made by the film winder of a manual camera, and the noise of a real shutter rather than a shutter sound effect. With digital I enjoy its convenience, but one problem I find with digital is forgetting to print the pictures off, and share them in the way they should be.

The Wait is Over

Before water cooler moments were known as water cooler moments, we would find a social way of sharing our snaps to a wider audience. Instead of the World Wide Web, this wider audience would be fellow relatives, friends or work colleagues. We would laugh at some of the bad photos or zaniest of shots from drunken nights out, holidays, family pictures, or the obligatory end-of-roll shot of your dog, taken prior to sending your films off.

Today these joys seem to have been diminished by the wonders of technology. We can use Photoshop to edit out the thumbprints caused by covering the lens. We can post our pictures seconds after the event onto Facebook and so on.

But Film’s Dead Now, Surely?

Oh no! Film may no longer have the commercial value it had 15 – 20 years ago, but reports have seen younger people turn to film. One reason could be the success of Hipstamatic and similar applications on the iPhone. Another could be the early 1990s development of Lomography and a trend towards dabbling with old cameras to see how the results turn out. With my 1958 Kodak Retinette, I was surprised to find on my second roll picture quality almost as good as digital, if not better.

Today, it is possible to find a Kodak Retinette for half the price of a new Holga, and with sharper results. I got mine for a tenner at a flea market, developed the film (35mm) at Boots and purchased my films from… Poundland, and Kodak film at that!

Shoot Your shot:

Is film dead? Do you prefer film? Or do you have memories of taking holiday snaps in pre-digital times. Feel free to comment away. You may wish to share some of your film pictures if you have any!

S.V., 05 May 2011.

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