The only film I can find in my home that’s not expired or short-dated is a handful of Lomography brand 35mm and a few packs of Fuji Instax instant film. The rest — all 500-plus rolls of it — is old, sometimes damaged and definitely expired. Some of it has been kept frozen all along or at least refrigerated, while there are boxes full that contain film 10, 15 or 20 years old and it’s those rolls that are often my favourites.
In particular, I love the packs of Fuji Sensia 35mm slide film that comes in a tacky “Vacation/Party Pack” complete with bad graphics and a decidedly ’90s look. That Sensia is a consumer film rather than a professional film, which means it wasn’t likely ever refrigerated, which in turn means its deterioration has been accelerated. Today, it’s brittle — almost crispy — and super-grainy. Cross-processed, the colours are poppy, producing turquoise blue skies and vivid oranges and reds reminiscent of a well-worn 1950s Technicolour movie that’s been run through a projector too many times.
I’m forever on the lookout for expired and/or damaged film. I’ve cleaned out film fridges in camera shops and always ask if there’s anything in the back room, maybe in a dusty box underneath a dozen others, filled with film many people think nobody wants. I check local buy-and-sell websites regularly and dig through the miscellaneous bins at thrift stores. Rummage and yard sales can also produce real scores.
In fact, I found the very best box of expired film at a random garage sale in a small town just outside the city just months after I started shooting with my first Holga. It was a shoebox crammed with Kodacolor and Kodachrome, rolls of super-rare Kodak Panatomic-X and at least a dozen rolls of black-and-white 620 that expired in the 1960s and ’70s.
Later, at home, I forced a roll of Kodak-X 620 that expired October 1967 into my Holga CFN and shot a series of vintage wallpapers. I then re-wound the roll and forced it in again, taking shots of my daughter. The age of the film combined with the fact that the 620 roll didn’t fit properly in my 120 camera, resulted in all kinds of wonderful scratches and grain that make the shots look as though they may have actually been shot back in 1967.
After that experience over three years ago, I was hooked. Not only is expired film usually heavily discounted compared to fresh film, the results are wonderfully unpredictable and always fun; pop a roll in your camera — you never know what you might get when it’s developed.
What experiences have you had with expired film? Share your shots and stories with me!
Pamela Klaffke is a former newspaper and magazine journalist who now works as a novelist and photographer. Her column appears weekly in the Analogue Lifestyle section of Lomography Magazine.