Tuesday April 6, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Photographic Film

On this Day:

In 1889, George Eastman began selling his Kodak flexible rolled film for the first time.

Photographic film is a strip or sheet of transparent film base coated on one side with a gelatin emulsion containing microscopically small light-sensitive silver halide crystals. The sizes and other characteristics of the crystals determine the sensitivity, contrast, and resolution of the film.

The earliest practical photographic process was the daguerreotype; it was introduced in 1839 and did not use film. The light-sensitive chemicals were formed on the surface of a silver-plated copper sheet. The calotype process produced paper negatives. Beginning in the 1850s, thin glass plates coated with photographic emulsion became the standard material for use in the camera. Although fragile and relatively heavy, the glass used for photographic plates was of better optical quality than early transparent plastics and was, at first, less expensive. Glass plates continued to be used long after the introduction of film, and were used for astrophotography and electron micrography until the early 2000s, when they were supplanted by digital recording methods. Ilford continues to manufacture glass plates for special scientific applications.

The first flexible photographic roll film was sold by George Eastman in 1885, but this original “film” was actually a coating on a paper base. As part of the processing, the image-bearing layer was stripped from the paper and attached to a sheet of hardened clear gelatin. The first transparent plastic roll film followed in 1889. It was made from highly flammable cellulose nitrate film.

Although cellulose acetate or “safety film” had been introduced by Kodak in 1908, at first it found only a few special applications as an alternative to the hazardous nitrate film, which had the advantages of being considerably tougher, slightly more transparent, and cheaper. The changeover was completed for X-ray films in 1933, but although safety film was always used for 16 mm and 8 mm home movies, nitrate film remained standard for theatrical 35 mm films until it was finally discontinued in 1951.

Hurter and Driffield began pioneering work on the light sensitivity of photographic emulsions in 1876. Their work enabled the first quantitative measure of film speed to be devised. They developed H&D curves, which are specific for each film and paper. These curves plot the photographic density against the log of the exposure, to determine sensitivity or speed of the emulsion and enabling correct exposure.

In black-and-white photographic film, there is usually one layer of silver halide crystals. When the exposed silver halide grains are developed, the silver halide crystals are converted to metallic silver, which blocks light and appears as the black part of the film negative. Color film has at least three sensitive layers, incorporating different combinations of sensitizing dyes. Typically the blue-sensitive layer is on top, followed by a yellow filter layer to stop any remaining blue light from affecting the layers below. Next comes a green-and-blue sensitive layer, and a red-and-blue sensitive layer, which record the green and red images respectively. During development, the exposed silver halide crystals are converted to metallic silver, just as with black-and-white film. But in a color film, the by-products of the development reaction simultaneously combine with chemicals known as color couplers that are included either in the film itself or in the developer solution to form colored dyes. Because the by-products are created in direct proportion to the amount of exposure and development, the dye clouds formed are also in proportion to the exposure and development. Following development, the silver is converted back to silver halide crystals in the bleach step. It is removed from the film during the process of fixing the image on the film with a solution of ammonium thiosulfate or sodium thiosulfate (hypo or fixer). Fixing leaves behind only the formed color dyes, which combine to make up the colored visible image. Later color films, like Kodacolor II, have as many as 12 emulsion layers, with upwards of 20 different chemicals in each layer. Photographic film and film stock tend to be similar in composition and speed, but often not in other parameters such as frame size and length. Silver halide photographic paper is also similar to photographic film.

Film remained the dominant form of photography until the early 21st century, when advances in digital photography drew consumers to digital formats. The first consumer electronic camera, the Sony Mavica was released in 1981, the first digital camera, the Fuji DS-X released in 1989, coupled with advances in software such as Adobe Photoshop which was released in 1989, improvements in consumer level digital color printers and increasingly widespread computers in households during the late 20th century facilitated uptake of digital photography by consumers. Although modern photography is dominated by digital users, film continues to be used by enthusiasts. Film remains the preference of some photographers because of its distinctive “look”.

Despite the fact that digital cameras are by far the most commonly-used photographic tool and that the selection of available photographic films is much smaller than it once was, sales of photographic film have been on a steady upward trend. Kodak (which was under bankruptcy protection from January 2012 to September 2013) and other companies have noticed this upward trend: Dennis Olbrich, President of the Imaging Paper, Photo Chemicals and Film division at Kodak Alaris, has stated that sales of their photographic films have been growing over the past 3 or 4 years. UK-based Ilford have confirmed this trend and conducted extensive research on this subject matter, their research showing that 60% of current film users had only started using film in the past five years and that 30% of current film users were under 35 years old.

In 2013 Ferrania, an Italy-based film manufacturer which ceased production of photographic films between the years 2009 and 2010, was acquired by the new Film Ferrania S.R.L taking over the old company’s manufacturing facilities, and re-employed some workers who had been laid off 3 years earlier when the company stopped production of film. In November of the same year, the company started a crowdfunding campaign with the goal of raising $250,000 to buy tooling and machines from the old factory, with the intention of putting some of the films that had been discontinued back into production, the campaign succeeded and in October 2014 was ended with over $320,000 being raised.

In February 2017, Film Ferrania unveiled their “P30” 80 ASA, Panchromatic black and white film, in 35mm format.

Kodak announced on January 5, 2017, that Ektachrome, one of Kodak’s most well known transparency films that had been discontinued between 2012 and 2013, would be reformulated and manufactured once again, in 35 mm still and Super 8 motion picture film formats. Following the success of the release, Kodak expanded Ektachrome’s format availability by also releasing the film in 120 and 4×5 formats.

Japan-based Fujifilm’s instant film “Instax” cameras and paper have also proven to be very successful, and have replaced traditional photographic films as Fujifilm’s main film products, while they continue to offer traditional photographic films in various formats and types (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

A seasoned photographer was asked by a student how to become a good photographer.  He was told: “You have to focus your full effort into it; you can’t just wait and see what develops.”

Second, a Song:

There are lots of songs out there about photographs and memories but only one about film, as far as I am aware. That is, of course, “Kodachrome” by Paul Simon.

Simon & Garfunkel were an American folk-rock duo consisting of singer-songwriter Paul Simon and singer Art Garfunkel. They were one of the best-selling music groups of the 1960s, and their biggest hits—including “The Sound of Silence” (1965), “Mrs. Robinson” (1968), “The Boxer” (1969), and “Bridge over Troubled Water” (1970)—reached number one on singles charts worldwide.

“Kodachrome” is a song by Paul Simon. It was the lead single from his third studio album, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon (1973), released on Columbia Records. The song is named after Kodak’s now-discontinued reversal film brand Kodachrome.

After a review in Billboard’s May 12 issue praising its “cheerfully antisocial lyrics,” the song debuted at No. 82 in the Hot 100 on the week-ending May 19, 1973. The lyrics to this song on There Goes Rhymin’ Simon differed in wording from those on The Concert in Central Park (1982) and Paul Simon’s Concert in the Park, August 15, 1991 albums. The former (the album) said, “…everything looks worse in black and white,” but the latter (the concerts) said, “…everything looks better in black and white.” While it might be easy to read into the change in lyrics, Simon said, “I can’t remember which way I originally wrote it – ‘better’ or ‘worse’ – but I always change it….’Kodachrome’ was a song that was originally called ‘Goin’ Home.'”

But the real significance was that Kodachrome film gave unrealistic color saturation. Pictures taken on a dull day looked as if they were taken on a sunny day. (To correct this, serious photographers would use a Wratten 2b UV filter to normalize the images.) [Editor: or shoot in Agfachrome, which I did as it was more realistic…but I digress…]

Four weeks after its debut on the Hot 100, the song moved to No. 9, sandwiched ahead of “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” by Dawn featuring Tony Orlando and behind May 19, 1973, Hot 100 top debut (No. 59) “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” by George Harrison.

Two weeks later “Kodachrome” peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, behind “Will It Go Round in Circles” by Billy Preston. It peaked at No. 2 the Billboard adult contemporary chart, as well. In the United Kingdom, the song was marketed as the B-side to “Take Me to the Mardi Gras” (CBS 1578). The song was also banned by the Federation of (Australian) Radio Broadcasters (per Wikipedia).

The Grammy Awards are held annually by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Simon & Garfunkel have won 9 total competitive awards, 4 Hall of Fame awards, and a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Rolling Stone ranked them number 3 on its list of the 20 Greatest Duos of All Time. Richie Unterberger described them as “the most successful folk-rock duo of the 1960s” and one of the most popular artists from the decade. They are among the best-selling music artists, having sold more than 100 million records. Bridge over Troubled Water is ranked at number 172 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Here are Simon & Garfunkel performing “Kodachrome / Mabellene” from The Concert in Central Park, NYC in 1982.  I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.” – George Eastman

Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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