5 Frames of… Redscaled Kodak ULTRA MAX 400 (35mm format / EI 100, Canon AE-1 + Canon FD 50mm f/1.8) – by Piper McManamon
A friend of mine told me once that she had a special surprise in mind for a roll of film she was shooting. She left me in the dark about what exactly it was for about a week until the roll was completed and she showed me the results. The photos were all bathed in tones ranging from bloody red to a creamy orange.
She told me, that she had taken a roll of regular color film and, in a changing bag, unraveled it and then re-rolled it into another cassette…backwards. The layer of emulsion that was meant to be the back layer was now the front layer. Because of whatever dark magic that goes into it, or the differing levels of sensitivity in the different color layers of the film, it meant that if you exposed the backward film at EI 100 instead of 400, it would produce these beautiful redscale photos.
Right away, I went and did the same with a spare roll of Kodak Ultramax 400 I had laying around. Over the course of several months, from October 2020 to April 2021, I shot the roll with my Canon AE-1 + Canon FD 50mm f/1.8 lens, but since I wasn’t shooting enough film to justify mixing up a new batch of chemicals to develop it, and my scanner at the time was out of commission, the finished roll sat in my backpack until just recently.
Over Father’s Day weekend, I finally found it in me to mix up a new batch of CineStill Cs41 and process these rolls. I had completely forgotten the contents. By the time the film had been developed, fixed, dried, and scanned (with dust and water spots galore), it was nearly three in the morning on Monday, and I had work in a few hours, but I was captivated.
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My favorite aspect of shooting and forgetting a roll is that when you look at the photos on it, you look at them not with the eyes of the artist but the eyes of the audience. You’re more likely to pick out things that look good rather than ways you could have improved the shot. My favorite example of this is a shot of a topless woman running her fingers through her hair.
When I saw this, my first thought wasn’t about the framing or the exposure levels or artistic nudity, it was, “Who is that?” Well, I went to a few friends to find out, and by process of elimination the result was funnier than I could have expected: She was no girl at all. “She” was actually my boyfriend, viewed from just the right angle. I thought the androgyny of the shot certainly added to it, like the cover of the Against Me! album White Crosses.
Other shots as well became a game of guesswork between my friends and I to figure out where I was or what I was doing when I took them, and honestly, it’s the most fun I’ve had with a roll of film in a long time. I truly believe that this experiment was a resounding success.
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