kodak portra 160

Hello everyone. Tom here with a post about my new favourite colour film, Kodak Portra 160.

What I find really exciting about the discipline of photography is that despite the advancement of technologies available, access to old techniques remains, meaning that the rich and complex history of photography continues to be available for us to explore in our work. So, though a majority of the photography you see may well now be digital, if you want to experiment with techniques and processes of creating images that are hundreds of years old – from cyanotypes and wet-plate collodion to silver gelatine printing and C-41 colour chemistry – it’s all still there to have fun with!

I have been using black and white film techniques alongside my digital work for many years. The absence of colour makes us look more at form, texture and composition – this was an important aspect of our Shetland Oo project – where my use of black and white film strove to give the ordinary work of Shetlanders a “monumental” feel. I’ve continued to use black and white film throughout our People Make Glasgow project for the same purpose.

But as well as the special quality that black and white film lends to the discipline of image making, I also love the practical activity, the work that needs to be done in order to make a physical photograph. I enjoy my long quiet hours in the dark room, mixing chemicals, heating, stirring and washing film and paper, whilst the luminous hands on my old dark room clock tick by. A throw back to my days as a scientist at the bench perhaps… but still, the moment an image appears remains almost magical to me.

Despite this love of traditional processes, of film and of time in the dark room, I have generally avoided colour film. I think in part this is because of the reputation of it being “tricky” (colour chemistry is far more sensitive to temperature) and partly it’s about my love of my trusty black and white Ilford films. But for our People Make Glasgow project I’ve also been shooting and developing colour film. And I’ve found that I love the results!

The film I’m currently using is Kodak Portra 160. Released by Kodak Eastman in 1998, Portra replaced the Ektacolor line. It’s an extremely fine grain film, which is intended for daylight shooting.

Developed (easily) using Tetanal’s C-41 chemistry, it has wonderfully subtle tones and a pastel colour palette which, to me, is reminiscent of the later colour work of Jacques Henri Lartigue.

Without the sharpness of the digital image, without the saturated, balanced colour profile, these images seemed steeped in nostalgia – like the holiday snaps of my childhood.

But though the images feel nostalgic, I also find that they make me look at the subject differently… the rendering of textures, of shape and light. In the photographs here I’ve left the rough edges of the frame, and the dust and scratches in place – not as an affectation, but as a reminder of the materiality, the thing-ness, the imperfect work of creating these objects.

And though you can emulate these effects, these colours, this grain digitally with apps or insta filters, I don’t think it feels quite the same. Do you?

As I’m sure you can tell, I am really enjoying creating images with this film and I’m sure you’ll be seeing more of my work with it over coming months!

Enjoy your Sunday