Film Photography

40-year-old Tri-X in the Yashica-12

I buy film impulsively with some project in mind. Then I never get to the project and eventually forget why I bought the film. I’ve done it enough that I now have about 15 rolls of film I need to shoot up. I’m working my way through this stock while I refine my home developing technique.

I own two rolls of 120 Kodak Tri-X that expired in June of 1981. I had a day off a couple weeks ago, and it was a warm spring day. So I spooled one roll of the Tri-X into my Yashica-12 and took it for a drive in the country. It was lovely to smell all the rural-Indiana spring smells. Along one country road the fields were awash in fragrant golden flowers. Another road smelled strongly of swine. That’s Indiana!

I stopped when I came upon the small town of Sheridan, and blew through the whole roll there.

In small town Indiana, everybody knows everybody and everybody’s lived there for ages. Even though the streets were largely deserted, a stranger like me stands out. These little towns are seldom popular destinations. The locals are sure to wonder why I’m making photographs there.

As I wrapped up the roll, I noticed one fellow stick his head out his door and give me a sidelong look. Several minutes later a woman pulled up to me in her car to ask what I was doing. Two minutes later, another car bearing two women pulled up to ask the same thing. They put on friendly faces, but that they asked at all told me I had worn out my welcome.

I’ve experienced this many times as I’ve photographed small Midwestern towns. I have a window of time before people let me know, at first subtly and then directly, that I’m noticed.

I’m a middle-aged, well-groomed white man. While I stand out because I am not known there, at least I look more or less like everyone else.

When I was in my 20s, with hair halfway down my back and wearing rock-concert T-shirts, I feel sure I would have received a distinctly unfriendly reception.

If my skin were brown but all else about me were the same as it is now, I’ll bet someone in Sheridan (or in any small, rural Midwestern town I’ve ever visited) would have called the sheriff.

It’s safe to be a middle-aged white man.

I developed the film that afternoon in L110, Dilution B, and scanned it the next day. This film was so fogged that the images were barely visible on the negatives. Yet my scanner cut through it and brought out usable, though very grainy, images. Here are the best of them.

Barber shop
Farmer's Bank
Christian Church
Central Indiana Telephone Co.
Reserved parking
Step up
Sheridan Post Office

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30 thoughts on “40-year-old Tri-X in the Yashica-12

  1. I have been thinking about this a lot lately as, like you, I often wander around small town America taking pictures. People sometimes give me a funny look like they don’t understand the point and I usually just compliment their town and they move one. I can only think of one time that was truly uncomfortable – walking through a nice old neighborhood in Lancaster, Ohio – photographing the streetscape ( not individual homes). A man came out of his home, stood on his steps and stared until I moved on. There’s no doubt that, had my skin been brown, the cops would’ve been called. My whiteness is a passport to almost anywhere I want to go and that point is not lost on me. I cannot imagine living in a world with the limitations we place on people of color.

    • I once photographed Lakeville, in northern Indiana, and had a man chase me down three blocks to demand to know why I just photographed his house. I was able to talk him down, thankfully. It is a little strange, I admit, to find someone in your area just randomly taking pictures. Most people don’t understand. It’s important to know that when you go in! I like your approach of complimenting the town and moving on.

      • Yikes! That would be a little intimidating. I tend to photograph the big picture rather than specific houses in residential areas and take more liberties in commercial ones. Sometimes if I am within speaking distance of someone I will volunteer information. “Your town is just so pretty! I’m an amateur photographer and couldn’t resist stopping to take some pictures…” that sort of thing goes a long way and sometimes leads to a nice conversation or even a good tip for something else to see. And once you talk to one person in a small town, word tends to spread quickly and they leave you alone. Lol. I’m a small town girl so I know how to work it!!

        • It did provoke anxiety, until the guy believed I was harmless and calmed down.

          I find it challenging to be the one who speaks first to someone I don’t know and so generally don’t. I’m sure small-town photography would be easier for me if I were more gregarious.

  2. An interesting social and photographic experiment here Jim. Growing up in the 60s, I am amazed and disappointed that race is still an issue in 2020. As for your Tri-X, it’s a testament to the quality of the films Kodak manufactured that you coaxed any images out of that roll at all. A few years ago, I got some surprisingly nice images out of 1974 expired rolls of Panatomic-X.

    • Being white I have had little direct contact with the racism that still exists. I’m equally disappointed that despite all the work done from the 1960s that things haven’t changed all that much under the surface.

      Someone recently gave me a bulk loader filled with Pan-X from probably the 1970s. I don’t have time to deal with it so I sent it to Mike Eckman, of Mike Eckman Dot Com, who loves Pan-X. He loaded a roll, shot it, developed it in HC-110 for 6 minutes, and the results are gorgeous. The film looks new. Mike says that he’s shot a lot of expired Pan-X and it doesn’t seem to matter how it was stored, it always performs. He describes this film as “indestructible.”

      • P says:

        I’m not going to lie, I’m a bit jealous of Mike Eckman getting a bulk loader full of Pan-X. That is THE film I wish Kodak would bring back. For the most part I could care less about P3200 and Ektachrome (why bring these back, Kodak?). Plus-X would be nice to have again, but isn’t really a standout, especially with FP4 PLUS around. But Panatomic-X, yeah, I want it to come back. I know a lot of people do. Maybe one of these days Kodak will start listening to their customers and not just figuring out new ways to convince them to pay their increasingly ridiculous prices.

        Good job with this roll. I like the aesthetic these shots have going on.

        • Oh man, had I known I would’ve shared! Somehow. I don’t know how I would’ve broken up the role of bulk film. I’m happy you enjoyed this series!

        • I’ve got a small supply of Pan-X – one roll of 135 dated sometime in the late 80s, and four rolls of 120 from 2008 (IIRC). Not sure how the 135 will fare, but the last roll of the 120 I shot looked great.

        • P says:

          Haha, that’s okay, Jim. But do keep me in mind in the unlikely event you are ever given another bulk roll of Pan-X! I’d be more than happy to do a trade of some kind. I could develop a few rolls of film for you in Clayton F76 Plus or something in exchange. :)

          fishyfisharcade, you just had to rub it in didn’t you… :) I hope you enjoy shooting the supply you have. It’s amazing stuff.

  3. Whenever I’m in doubt about the safety of a location I take a middle aged white man with me. Since I’m married to him it’s usually easy to get him to go with……

  4. Jim, these are not bad at all. I acquired a Yashica MAT 124 three months ago, and I’m beginning to get the hang of it. Could you recommend a good reference/how-to guide for TLR photography?

    • I wish I knew of a good TLR primer — I just fumbled my way with my TLRs until I figured them out. I pretty much always use the magnifying glass to compose and focus because it’s surer. That’s the only tip I have!

  5. tbm3fan says:

    The reason why the locals had noticed you and paid attention to your strangeness was because of the TLR hung around your neck. Gotta say if you want people to notice and say something just wear one of those. I can walk the Golden Gate Bridge with my SLR and look like everyone else, no problem. Yet whip out my Autocord and all eyes are on me as people pass. Someone will eventually say something like “my Grandfather had one of those.” That’s better than being chased over the side.

    • I think that TLRs have an advantage in that, while they tend to get noticed, the unsusual nature of them can be disarming. You’d hardly go around up to no good with such an eye catching vintage style camera – it’s pretty much asking to get spotted – and so can be easier to explain to people who might be worried if you were pointing a modern digital camera or a phone in their direction.

      • That’s true. Any camera that looks suitably vintage doesn’t point to someone with nefarious intent. But it does bring out the curious to ask questions.

      • tbm3fan says:

        Now try walking around with my Koni Rapid Omega M. People will notice that and either ask what it is or are you going to hit me over the head with it and rob me. Then again it could be just you.

  6. once i worked at a kibbutz not far from where I live and went for a walk with my camera during the break. after 10 minutes a security guard walked up to me and started inquiring what i was doing. turned out a local resident called him when they saw me with my camera. after some questions the guard left me alone but i was quite annoyed with whoever called him because most of the locals at least knew my face and knew i was working there.

    last week i developed a couple of expired kodak color rolls 10 years past the date. i was quite surprised to get anything out of them

  7. I think sometimes people have trouble believing that their ordinary street has anything of interest to someone else. Generally I find that a smile, a friendly wave and “Hi How are you doing?” works pretty well. I have met some nice people and had some interesting conversations that way. I know this because I used to freelance as a bush pilot in Australia, and often had several hours to kill wandering around the streets of some small town or settlement while my passengers conducted their business….

    • Yes, I think you’re right: “why the heck is he photographing this place? It’s not that interesting.”

      I do try to be friendly, but frankly mostly I just want to be left alone!

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