Now Rolling

. November 5, 2019.
Film-Ren1-cropped

A tiny Bowling Green camera store invigorates local photographers with hand-rolled film

Driving west on Wooster Street in Bowling Green, just past the Wood County Hospital, Main Street Photo & Portrait Studio (1204 W Wooster) lives in an anodyne plaza with plenty of parking. Inside the store, anachronistic cameras sit atop and within the glass display counter. Behind the counter is a pile of used photography equipment that seems to expand and retreat with each visit. A Kodak-branded miniature hot air balloon sways in one corner. Strips of film hang from racks near a modular machine, a cousin of machines that you might last remember seeing behind drug store photo counters nearly two decades ago. This store serves as a flash point for Northwest Ohio’s incarnation of the film renaissance sweeping a certain picture-sharing social media platform.

Todd Brininger (@scanmyfilm), owner of the store, whether he intends to or not, serves as a humble educator for film photographers around Northwest Ohio. He stands over six feet tall, wears an auburn goatee and takes questions about film and cameras qualified knowledge from working in a camera store for just about his entire adult life. Todd attended the Rochester Institute of Technology, which shares a hometown with the Eastman Kodak Company. Don’t believe in coincidences.

Shutter community

Todd’s store creates a tangible nexus that lends form to an otherwise fragmented community. Toledo-based film photographer Justin Coy (@redpeavy) is among the film pilgrims that trek to Bowling Green for the environment that Main Street Photo nurtures. “It’s not as much a store as a hang out place,” Coy said. “It’s one of the few places where you can run into someone who’s also shooting film. I end up talking to Todd for way longer than I plan to.”

James Dickerson (@dirtykics), an ascendent local photographer recognizable in tandem with his conversation-catalyzing 1957 Rolleiflex 2.8e, feels similarly. He describes Todd’s store: “My favorite hangout spot. It’s like hanging out in the record store from High Fidelity. Piles of cameras, films, chemicals you can’t find anywhere else.”

In addition to the film marketing relics and esoteric cameras, Brininger began purchasing reels of 35mm 500T Vision3 Kodak motion picture film and rolling it into spent canisters he gifts to his coterie of avowed film nerds. Though hobbyist photographers can purchase repurposed consumer-grade cinematic films online, Todd’s craft, altruistically distributed, exists only at this strip mall birthplace in Bowling Green.

Once I figured out what it can do and what it can do that other films can’t, I was really excited about it. It’s so much better in these urban mixed lighting situations where there’s signs and dusk lighting.  - Justin Coy

Once I figured out what it can do and what it can do that other films can’t, I was really excited about it. It’s so much better in these urban mixed lighting situations where there’s signs and dusk lighting.
– Justin Coy

Reeling market

The 500T Vision3 is among the handful of newish Kodak developments in the aftermath of film’s mass extinction event, that cataclysmic tipping point of consumer-friendliness that rendered digital cameras ubiquitous.

“It’s not like, ‘We found an old batch of film; we hope it’s OK,’” Brininger said. “It’s one of the newest-developed films out there.”

In the wake of the Vision3 500T’s release from Kodak, Brininger felt compelled to experiment with adapting the film for still photography. He bought a reel of Kodak 500T and cut five feet to make the customary 36-frame length standard for most consumer small format film cameras. “You have to do it in the dark, obviously,” Brininger said.

He loaded it in a camera and shot a couple test rolls. “When I saw the results of this film under mixed lighting, it was crazy good,” Todd said. “It didn’t look like any other film out there.”

The most flagrant technical difference between traditional consumer film that produces still images and Todd’s Vision3 500T film is that Todd’s version retains an agent called remjet as a coating chemical. Reinforcing a motion picture film with remjet discourages static electricity from metastasizing on the film when it’s zipping through a motion picture camera north of 20 frames per second.

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I’ve used the 500T because it’s so versatile in tungsten light. I kind of like the way that 500T renders tungsten, especially when you shoot it at night. In the day, the shadows have a bluish or cyan tint. – Francis Bugyei

Developing adapted

Adapting a motion picture film for mature hipsters shooting still photography with old cameras requires a degree of dexterity. Most processing labs strip the remjet from the motion picture film before it reaches the developing bath. Leaving the remjet on the film would muddy the developing machine’s chemical pools, maintaining the fidelity of which is considered integral to crispy photography.

“Most film developing machines have a reservoir of chemistry that heats up, like a french fryer at a restaurant,” Brininger explains. “The machine then passes the film through the reservoir. If the remjet were to be on there during the process, the remjet would fall off in the reservoir.” Running another film through a reservoir contaminated with remjet would create spots on images, basically ruining the film.

Manufacturers of consumer-grade motion picture film adaptations like Cinestill obey their film’s ancestral movie industry developing process and remove the remjet back prior to packaging it for still photographers to enjoy. The issue is, tampering with the remjet before exposure may destabilize otherwise vibrant images when shooting.

Francis Bugyei (@bugyei), a film photographer based in Bowling Green who has been going to Todd’s shop for some time, explains, “I tried Cinestill 800T first. But taking the remjet off made it really unstable. In some cases with that you get a lot of helation, it turns really orange and you end up with a lot of light flares and leaks. I think that the remjet stops that.”

You can shoot it at 1600 and push it one stop and it’s still really clean. When you push it, it gets a little bit more contrasty, but it doesn’t affect the fidelity. When you push most film, it gets super grainy, but this one just gets super contrasty and it’s really beautiful. With the skin tones, the film really shines there; it’s really perfect.  - Francis Bugyei

You can shoot it at 1600 and push it one stop and it’s still really clean. When you push it, it gets a little bit more contrasty, but it doesn’t affect the fidelity. When you push most film, it gets super grainy, but this one just gets super contrasty and it’s really beautiful. With the skin tones, the film really shines there; it’s really perfect. – Francis Bugyei

Because Todd develops each roll in such small batches, he can leave on the remjet backing. Compared to developing thousands of feet of film reels for, say, the latest Tarantino movie, developing a few rolls at a time of Todd’s hand-rolled film necessitates a much smaller batch of chemicals. This means he can keep the chemicals fresh and each film roll effectively free of pesky remjet residue.

Due to the craft nature of developing this repurposed motion picture film, Todd employs a smaller developing machine that he also uses, in different instances, for black-and-white as well as slide film. When the 500T emerges from this specific machine, he wipes the remjet from it by hand.
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The Results

Anomalous film processing for a film rarely purposed for still frame photography yields a variety of results, most of them specific and exciting to each photographer shoots with the Kodak Vision3.

“One of the things I love about the film is that it has a lot of latitude,” Bugyei said. “When you’re shooting a scene with a lot of contrast, it’s easy to blow out your shots. That doesn’t happen with this film. And the skin tones are perfect; they’re always on.”

The film is also reputed to perform well when exposed to varied grades of illumination. “The mixed lighting is insane,” Coy said. “When you have two different light sources or more, it seems to explode with color.”

For Brininger, this niche revived film photography obsession signals some measure of optimism. Giving away unexposed hand-rolls of Vision3 500T to photographers who exude appreciation cements Brininger’s stature as Northwest Ohio’s film guru. “I let them enjoy it,” he said. “It makes me happy that [the art of shooting film] is not dead.”