Welcome to the 500th post on Down the Road!

Shortly after I shot my first roll of film as a boy in 1976, my family moved from Rabbit Hill to a larger home on Erskine Boulevard. As summer faded into autumn I returned to Hook’s Dependable Drugs for more film, this time going for black-and-white Verichrome Pan.

Kodak designed Verichrome Pan to work in the simplest cameras for the unskilled photographer – like nine-year-old me with my Brownie Starmite II. This film had extremely wide exposure latitude, meaning it could get a usable image under a huge range of conditions.

I found those negatives recently and scanned them. This is my favorite shot from the roll. On the left is Kevin, a neighborhood boy and coincidentally the son of my family’s dentist. My brother’s on the right. They had been playing catch in the front yard, but I knew that my camera couldn’t freeze their motion. So I staged this shot by asking them to pose. Kevin passed away as a young adult, so it was a sad moment for me when this image emerged from the scanner, onto my monitor, and into my eyes for the first time in 36 years.

Verichrome Pan memories

This, the crispest shot on the roll, is of my brother in the front yard on a warmer day. My mom always patched the knees of our play jeans when they inevitably wore out. Those were more active times for youth. My sons, products of the video-game era, have never worn out the knees of their jeans.

Verichrome Pan memories

My brother took this blurry shot of me on the same day. We both had several of these tank tops, which were a staple of our play-clothes wardrobe. I am astonished by how much this reminds me of my youngest son – his hair, the shape of his jaw and chin, the facial expression, the way he stands. My arms are longer, though. I have unusually long arms. I constantly have to return long-sleeved sport shirts because the cuff doesn’t reach my wrist.

Verichrome Pan memories

A few shots remained on the roll after the leaves had fallen off the trees. I was wearing school clothes when my brother shot this. Mom loved to dress us in plaid pants. They were stylish in 1972, I guess, but by the time of this photo in 1976 they were just embarrassing! Most of our friends were allowed to wear jeans to school, but not us. Mom finally relented when we entered middle school. Note the fire hydrant. To celebrate the Bicentennial, every hydrant in South Bend was painted to look like a Revolutionary War soldier or a father of our country. I wish I had a better photo of the one in our yard. Most of them were replaced over time with plain yellow plugs, but a few of these hydrants may still lurk on side streets.

Verichrome Pan memories

By 1976, most casual photographers had upgraded to Instamatic cameras and were shooting color film. By the 1990s, most snapshooters were buying reasonably well specified 35 mm point-and-shoot cameras, even the simplest of which could get good exposure under most circumstances. There was little need for Verichrome Pan anymore, though Kodak doggedly kept producing it for many years. They finally stopped making it in 127 (for the Brownie that produced these images) in 1995. Soon you could get it only in good old 120, but even that ended in 2002.

I wish I had shot more of it back then. I wish I could shoot it in my simple old cameras now. It would just be right.

I shot black and white not long ago, using modern T-Max film. Check it out!

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24 responses to “Verichrome Pan memories”

  1. ryoko861 Avatar

    I wasn’t allowed to wear jeans til jr. high, then again, girls weren’t allowed to wear them til 1974 in the school system. Pants, yes, jeans, no. It was quite the event when that day came. I don’t think a single girl wore a dress ever again.

    I hear ya on the older cameras. The digitals are great for ease of just shooting a picture, especially for on-line selling, but it doesn’t quite capture the essence of photography.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I guess my hometown was more forward-looking, as I don’t remember a time when jeans weren’t allowed.

      You know, I’ve taken some very pleasing photos with my digicam, but I enjoy the process more when shooting film.

  2. Dani Avatar

    500th post! Congratulations and thank you for your gifts of words and photos.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thank you for reading all along!

  3. davidvanilla Avatar

    Ah, yes. The Wonder Years!

    1. Jim Avatar

      If only I had a Danica McKellar back then!

  4. Ted Kappes Avatar

    Wow, I had forgotten about knee patches. I remember in my family the choice was to patch the knee, or if the hole was too big to make a pair of shorts.

    I do wish I had had the foresight to have frozen a bunch of Verichrome before it was discontinued.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Yeah, I had several pairs of cutoffs over the years too from long pants where the knee damage was too severe.

      I hear that expired Verichrome Pan can often yield pretty good results — it was “good” long past its expiration date. I’ve added an eBay search for the film and will look for some from the past 25 years.

  5. mysweatyshirt Avatar

    Love this post! The pictures are treasure for sure. :D Anyway, I’ve tried my new camera and I thought I show you my shots that I took few weeks before, just for some feedback. They are my best shots so far. Here it is, http://mysweatyshirt.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/girl-went-on-a-date-at-a-beach-her-amateur-shots/ :D

    1. Jim Avatar

      Glad you enjoyed the photos! I left a comment on the post you linked.

  6. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    Congratulations on your personal quincentennial (I had to look that up). :)

    Boy, I’ll tell you, your knowledge of the particulars of consumer photography always impresses me. I wish I had a tenth of the shots you still have that you took as a kid… I just have a handful. Mind you, I didn’t take many to start with.

    Plaid pants, yeah… what were they thinking? I have a picture of me from the first day of school in 1973 and you could damage your vision staring for too long at the pants my mother dressed me in.

    Kids in your old neighbour seem to have an alarming high mortality rate, Jim… kind of a Love Canal vibe. Was there something unusual about South Bend?

    1. Jim Avatar

      I’ve just read a lot. I’m a walking compendium of useless knowledge!

      I have all the negatives I’ve ever shot. This was the last 127 I shot, as my dad bought me a 126 camera in 1977 and I shot with that until 1984. I have lots and lots of negatives from that 126 camera. It was a particularly crappy camera, unfortunately.

      Yeah, it is unusual that so many kids I knew back when have passed on. Their deaths all happened when we were adults and I wasn’t associated with them anymore as time had separated us.

  7. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    Errr, in your old neighbourhood, I mean. :D

  8. Mike Avatar

    Your technique was a little shaky, but you had a good grasp of concepts of visual communication. I don’t know at what age that usually appears in kids. My granddaughter at age 3 thanks to modern automation can make a perfectly focused and exposed photo. However, organizing the picture space and communicating ideas with visual representation are still beyond her.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Mike, full disclosure: I cropped all of these shots to improve their composition. They all communicate better now than they did when the original prints came back from the drug store! For example, this is closer to the full frame of me in the tank top.

      Verichrome Pan memories

  9. Derek Avatar

    Verichrome Pan Rules. Now you just need to find some Panatomic X!

    1. Jim Avatar

      I always thought Panatomic X would make a better name for a superhero than a film!

      1. Derek Avatar

        Totally agreed.

  10. Ronald Schleyer Avatar
    Ronald Schleyer

    The problem was not the Verichrome Pan, which is a heavenly film of tremendous power and (as you said) great latitude. In a fine camera Verichrome Pan was the best ASA 125 film ever made–far, far richer than the Kodak standard Pan-X. Partly this was because the film base was at least twice as thick. Why Kodak did this, I don’t know, but when they decided to produce 110 film in those little pop-in light-tight cartridges with notches along one edge of the film instead of all those 35-mm sprocket holes like a toothed railroad, they picked their Verichrome product to do it. Very wise choice. See my post on the Minolta 110 Zoom (Collectible Cameras) for complete details of how this is (or was!) done.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I always wondered how Kodak managed to get VP to work well in 110 cartridges, the film was so thick! But for me, because of my memories, VP is just best as rollfilm.

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        Verichrome Pan was THE medium speed film to use. Plus-X was flat and ugly. When Kodak first announced they were going to kill Verichrome Pan, I changed over to Ilford FP-4, which was OK but had emulsion tearing! By the time Kodak really killed Verichrome Pan, Ilford ‘upgraded’ to FP-4 Plus, which looked flat and lifeless, but had no emulsion tearing! I switched over to Agfapan 100, until they killed it. Now, maybe back to Ilford…

        BTW, the first time Kodak announced they were killing Verichrome Pan, it got a reprieve becasue, I was told, that Victor Skrebneski in Chicago, and Avedon in NYC, put up a big stink; they were both using it for 120. The a few years later, it was yanked. Just another example of Kodak yanking product while they were still making money on it, instead of trying to promote it.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Really? I like Plus-X. I have one roll left in the fridge and one in my F3 right now. But I don’t have much basis for comparison to VP as I didn’t get to shoot very much of it at all before it went away.

  11. joann Avatar

    I read that you scanned your negetives. Shocker!! What type of scanner? I have about 100 chrome b&w negetives. To have them made into 4×6 photos was going to cost me at a camera house 10 dollars a pic. Another shocker. There are pics from over 60yrs ago on these neg. I would love to bring them to life. Any suggestions would be great. Thankyou

    1. Jim Avatar

      Joann, to scan negatives, you need a scanner that can handle transparencies. Mine, an Epson V300, but handles only 35mm negatives well. I have kind of jury rigged it to handle my 127, 126, and 110 negatives. The reality is that scanning negatives is boring, tedious, and time-consuming work. The more I do it, the less I like it. My recommendation to you is that you explore other options to pay someone else to scan your negatives. I have heard good things about Scan Cafe, scancafe.com — they are far, far more cost-effective than the camera house you found.

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