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not-exactly-ruins-per-se friday.

15 Oct 2010

I had planned to write a brief thought piece on ruins for Low Readership Friday (aka LRF), especially after my trip to Pittsburgh and late night, buzzy talks with Dan about what constitutes a ruin to begin with.  Heady, brainy, slightly intoxicating (er … intoxicated?) stuff, no?  But I thought I’d spend LRF waxing for a minute about the news I got yesterday that Kodak was discontinuing their Portra 400NC (neutral color) and 400VC (vivid color) film, and was going to roll out (as it were) a new line of 400-speed film.   The news has bummed me out considerably, since I rely on 400NC for most of my indoor food photos; the new Portra 400 is supposed to have better, tighter grain quality, which is good, but also more saturation, which I think would be a terrible shame.   In the wrong light, greater saturation can make an image feel a bit cartoonish, or maybe like something out of a graphic novel — which is great if you’re a graphic novel, but not so good if you’re trying to capture the feel of what you’re about to eat, in as natural a way as possible.   The new stuff is supposed to be less saturated than the existing 400VC (good god, that film reminds me sometimes of those Schwab commercials, or that Richard Linklater film where it’s sort of half-animated but based on something already filmed — know what I’m talking about?), but I’d really just like my old barely-saturated film back, thanks.

To be sure, Kodak is continuing to make its Portra 160NC, which is my outdoor standby, and which I love perhaps more than all other film stock — if they ever stopped making that, I’d have to seriously reconsider my life as a film photographer.  (Mostly joking.  I’m not going to stop crossing my fingers, though, that this doesn’t actually come true.)  And it’s funny, because I didn’t feel this sense of loss as much when I found out that the venerated Kodachrome was no longer being made.  For me, my work with Kodachrome has the feel of an ongoing experiment, like playing around with your grandfather’s random old radio equipment, not really sure if it’s going to work and not really worried one way or another.  After all, I still had my old standbys to fall back on if the Kodachrome results proved unremarkable (which they have so far, by the way).   

But after a trip to B&H Photo yesterday and discovering that even they are out of their remaining 400NC stock … I won’t lie – I had a moment of complete panic: my camera was at the end of my very last roll of 400NC.  I’ve posted the results of that roll up above – some odds and ends from Pittsburgh and Brooklyn, including Ritter’s Diner and Mineo’s in PGH, and my new favorite neighborhood spot, Brucie, over in Cobble Hill (okay, okay, my new favorite neighboring-neighborhood spot),  and my leaf-littered street the morning after that insane hailstorm earlier this week.  Looking at these photos, I know I should be thinking more about how I captured really great meals with great company, or the quietness of my block after a stormy, thunder-filled night.  But I’m just sort of pissed that I won’t be able to capture moments like these in the same way, with my old, reliable 400NC.    I’m sure the new stuff will work just fine, and I’m sure I’ll make do, and I’m sure that there won’t be any overall massive shift in how my food photos look.   But it’s frustrating all the same; the vagaries of film photography are such that once you find something you like, you try not to mess with the formula too much, you know?  

In an increasingly overwhelmingly digital market, the pressure to keep film stock up to snuff with digital sensors seems misguided at best.  Why take away the feel of what a film photo can do?  Argh.  But maybe this is all just the curmudgeonly Andy Rooney in me.  I’ll shut up now and go putter the weekend away with my camera.

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