KODAK VARICOLOR III - A TRACE OF SOFT TOE
A couple of years ago I wrote about shooting a roll of 21-year-old expired Fuji Velvia 50. A friend had given me a couple of rolls that had expired in 1993 and I used one somewhat unconventionally for a series of portraits. I'm not much of a photographic experimenter but I do enjoy using expired film. Last month I was given a bag of various long expired films from a photographer who had converted to digital in the early 2000's. He had kept them in his attic hoping one day he might shot some film again. Finally realising that this would probably never happen he decided to give them to a good home, me. Now in my fridge, the bag is a mishmash of 35mm and 120 films all dating from the late 80's. What caught my eye were some rolls of Kodak Varicolor III Professional 160. I wasn't familiar with this film and so did a bit of research online. Discovering that it was sold as a professional grade general portrait film and was described by Kodak as "Medium speed color negative film designed for fine portraiture, it combines a “soft toe,” moderate contrast, and moderate color saturation. For fine portraiture, these characteristics maximize the retention of highlight and shadow detail, with exceptional flesh-tone reproduction under controlled lighting". I was pretty sure that I wouldn't get any soft toe whatever that is from my rolls of 29-year-old Varicolor, but it would be interesting to see what I could get. So in a pool of strong evening light and after shooting Rosie with some fresh Kodak Portra 800, I shot a roll.
I exposed the ISO 160 Varicolor at ISO 64 and developed it in Tetenal Colortec C41 at 38ºc for an extra 45 seconds; 4:00, not the usual 3:15. The developed roll had a distinct blue sheen when wet, something I've not seen before however it did eventually dry back to orange. The negatives were very thin, apparently, an issue with Varicolor even when new. Kodak's own notes stated "Because of the film’s “soft toe” and moderate contrast, photographers (under many circumstances) prefer to “build” slightly higher contrast and color by exposing the film at ISO 125. This also provides additional protection from potential underexposure". After scanning I made some simple post-processing adjustments with curves and some local burning-in of the dark areas to produce the final photos. What struck me were the flecks of blue sky coming through the trees, the intensity of this blue is curious. This for me is a kind of signature. Overall the final photos are a true testament to photographic film's ability to withstand the passage of time and still deliver beautiful images.