A beautiful symphony of red could be seen — signally the arrival of autumn and with it, all its glory. I felt the sun’s ray cast it warm glow, it felt wonderful even as the cold wind blew against my face. Its warmth filling my heart with such joy. The sky was finally clear after 2 days of gloomy weather — Today was special.
It was November in Kyoto, Japan.
It was special for other reasons too, not only was it the first break in poor weather, today would be the end of a story of mine. One that started many years ago, with pains and anguished but ultimately rewarded with joy and satisfaction. Tried as I may, there would be nothing stopping today — both good and bad.
I slowly locked into the place the film leader onto the take up spool, tucked the canister into the camera before gently closing the back of my SLR and listened as the camera winded to the first shot.
There would be no going back — I had just loaded my last roll of Fortia SP.
Once it was shot and developed, I knew I would never again have the chance to shoot with it. My journey through Japan wasn’t done yet, but my journey with Fortia SP would be. What a journey it had been, not just for Fortia SP, but color slide film for me.
My first foray into film was done using slide film, it begins when a roll accidentally being loaded into my camera during university days. Sightseeing around Toowoomba, Australia, with no idea or understanding of film. When the roll had been developed, the results were abysmal and only continued to photograph again when my father bought me a digital camera for my return trip after the summer holidays. I didn’t return to shooting film until many years later.
It was when I befriended a film photographer by the name of Kimberly in Deviantart – half Malaysian and half Korean, living in Australia, she had an eye for capturing art and story in her work. I began to study her work.
Her film photography work was bold and very inspiring — so inspiring that I decided once again to try my hand at film. At the time, still trying to improve my own set of skills – to create good work, but many times failed miserably. Producing only subpar attempts or just plain smut that became distasteful on 2nd viewing, it was a very bad slump. Learning from her description, she had used slide film, this brought me back to my painful memories of using slide in previous years and so thought how could it be that such things had been produced with film like that? Regardless, the more I researched, the more I learned that the most spectacular work was always produced on slides. Which was good in a way as that was all the shops had in Penang at the time, mind you it was expired slide film but slide nonetheless.
First to find a good bargain film camera. I didn’t know where to look or what to get, it felt like a game where the rules weren’t clear at all. There was a moment when I thought I had found it when I held an old beat up fm2 in the many Georgetown shops — this was what I was looking for! But it was not meant to be as the price placed it well beyond my financial capability plus the camera needed some serious TLC or CLA in camera lingo before it would be back in working condition.
Having a clear goal of absolute bare minimum — A camera with a light meter, manual focusing and uses film. I was sure this would be the tool that would helped me improve my skills. Setting out again to find this camera, after much online searching and advice from the old sages of FotoKrazy members forum, and after posting a notice on Photomalaysia asking to buy Nikon Fm2 or Fm2n, I got a reply from forum member morpheuse.
A deal was struck and soon had the camera in my hand in pretty good condition, now came the next part, finding slide film.
Slide was the only film left in Penang shops (in the pro camera shops at least). With my first roll of Velvia 100F, I was careful to ensured my metering was spot on — slide film being intolerant of incorrect exposures. Any subtle mistakes would ruin an otherwise good shot. Many mistakes were made during this period and a dear price was paid as a result.
This was considered trial by fire so to speak and forced to learn from many mistakes, because the price for every poor shot developed would hurt dearly. Another painful part of the lesson, only 1 lab in the whole of Malaysia developed slide film and it was located in KL adding to the turnaround time before getting my slides back for inspection and further experimentation.
But when the first roll back, I was blown away by the results, nevermind that the composition were poor and exposure was slightly under — it was expired slide film afterall, being able to look at the film in it’s totality instead of staring at color inverse negs showed something thought not possible to feel anymore with digital — excitement, pure unadulterated excitement like my first taste of vanilla ice-cream — I wanted more.
But soon even the remaining slide supply in Penang were exhausted and found myself going online for my supply of slide film. I could have gone to color negative film and would have saved on the price. But my mind had this odd fixation that color negative wouldn’t forced improved my skill as it gave quite a lot of leeway in terms of exposure and plus the belief that colors from color negative was far inferior when compared to slide film (while true to an extent but I have learned to compensate for it since). I then turned to the only local website I could find, that was Shashinki that began my love affair with Fortia SP.
At first I tried some of the more popular slides like Velvia 50 and 100 along with Velvia 100F. Then one day while browsing through their website, I noticed Fortia SP. The price was astronomical (RM50 a roll and only a propack of 5 was available) and yet there was very little info about it.
Like the curious cat, an order was made and soon loaded a roll into my camera to go shooting. When the roll had been shot,the results were developed and I held the results in my hand, I was taken in by the incredibly colors and details! It seemed like I had chance upon the secret candy stash long forgotten from Halloween! It was a film not easily mastered and it took many rolls before I eventually managed to wrestled it to at least go where I wanted it. Much of personal finance was plowed into buying it, but the rewards made it well worth the price and many good memories were captured.
Sadly Fortia SP was shortly discontinued a few years down the road, even when it was just a seasonal film (meaning it was only made during specific season in limited quantities) . Having since then tried to relearn that level of skill using other slides,the closes so far was Velvia 50 but that film had terrible shadow color casting.
I continued to find a replacement that reproduced the extreme saturation having exhausted my final frozen supply.
Thoughts of hoarding whatever I had left crossed my mind — but I thought against it in the end. Film should be used and developed, not stored in some freezing for long periods of time. It’s like a story book waiting to be written and shared to those who desired it.
Am I afraid of one day waking up and finding slide completely gone? Yes and no. Yes, it scares me so I try to shoot it while I still can and capture images with it for posterity’s sake, show the future what was slide film then. No, there are other films I can shoot, it just means now I need to up my ante and master what remaining film selection there are and enjoy them. Trying out color negative after years of reluctance.
Though I did indulged in one last adventure with slide film back during December 2012 in Japan by shooting Provia 400x. Again that film was discontinued the following year. Not unexpected as Kodak has completely halted all slide film production as well. It was a matter of time before Fujifilm follows suite with their Provia 400x, I can only imagine it will be a matter of time before Provia 100F, Velvia 100 and Velvia 50 will be axed with their black and white line not far behind, completely leaving the film industry and instead focusing more on their cosmetic business.
We will always have black and white film thanks to Ilford and other emerging film companies and the fact Kodak film division had been saved from bankruptcy and will continue to making the current product lineup — showing there is growing reason to be happy and continue to shoot.
An example of such a situation arrived when Compact disc was released — many had proclaimed the end of vinyl but that has yet to happened — infact — many have claimed the end of Compact disc with the coming of itunes and portable music players, mirroring events like before — this too has yet to happened. But a closer example to art was when computer digital art finally came of age, many thought it spelled the end days for traditional paint and brush, that has not been the case as we still see people painting.
Returning to that last roll of Fortia SP, after spending my 3 weeks in the Honshu region. The roll was then developed in Tokyo on my final week. After being handed the developed film, I quickly made my way to the many light tables in Yodobashi and grabbed the loupe. I peered through the loupe and to my satisfaction, the colors came out perfectly. Everytime I look at the same contacts sheets every now and then, immediately I am transported back to that day — A beautiful symphony of red could be seen — signally the arrival of autumn and with it, all its glory.