There was just one box of color camera film on display on a display outside Fotografia and Techni, a small photographic supply store on the Greek island of Aegina. On the window behind, the store advertises in English that it sells film.
But the box was empty. Its interior wares – three rolls of 35mm color film, now a scarce resource – were kept safely behind the counter, under the watchful eyes of the shopkeeper, who shrugged at his pitiful stock.
“Where’s Fuji?” ” he said.
Not so long ago, the phrase “film is dead” echoed through movie theaters, photography shops and studios. A few months after 2012, Kodak filed for bankruptcy and Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion. But as the nostalgia crept in a decade later, that gritty cinematic aesthetic became all the more alluring. Today, analog cameras have become as indispensable an accessory as a shoulder bag. The hardest part is getting your hands on the film.
Due to renewed demand and supply chain delays, photographic equipment suppliers around the world are struggling to source rolls of 35mm color film, the format most commonly used by analog photographers, amateurs and professionals. It’s so bad, said Olga Tsirakidou, who works at famed photography supply store Geramas Foto in Athens, that photographers are buying disposable cameras to extract the film inside. He was told it was the first time in 40 years that the shop had run out of color stock. “When the movie arrives, it’s like treasures arrive,” she said.
Staff at UK store Analogue Wonderland said that in the last 18 months they had only received one or two types of color film both from Kodak, compared to the usual offering of eight, and it’s unpredictable as to what comes in. Many stores are forced to limit purchases to just one or two rolls per person to fight pushers. A single roll of Kodak Colourplus 200, a bestseller for beginners that cost £3.50 in 2018, now costs double in stores and retails for up to £15.
“The fact is, if Eastman Kodak stopped making color film, there would be virtually no color film.” —Michael Raso
Kodak, which held half of the global market in the 1990s, has raised film prices in 2020 and 2021 and plans to raise prices another 20% in March. The company said the initial hike was partly intended to investments in production capacity. They also said they had hired 350 people since 2021 to help boost production, claiming to have doubled production of 35mm filmstrips in recent years, but even that is not meeting demand.
” I do not think that [Kodak] anticipated the keen interest in film photography. said Michael Raso, host of the film photography project podcast and founder of an online store of the same name. “But the fact is, if Eastman Kodak stopped making it, there would be virtually no color film.”
The film industry has also been rocked by pandemic-induced supply chain delays, compounding pressure on Kodak’s production capacity. In particular, a shortage of steel used to make the end caps of film cartridges slow production.
Fujifilm also blamed difficulties in procuring resources when it announced it would immediately end production and sale of the favorite color Fujifilm pro 400H in 2021. The company began discontinuing some of its color stock as early as 2017, but low availability of remaining stock in recent years has fueled fears they may have made an Irish release of the production of traditional films. Sellers say the company’s communication is unclear and they don’t know which films have been discontinued – for example, Fujifilm Pro 400H still appears as available on Fujifilm UK site. The most recent communication of November 2022 announces that the company is little supply from 35mm color stock, but sellers say it hasn’t been available for over a year.
For some photographers, no film simply means no film. lebanese photographer Jana Khoury generally shoots in black and white, which has remained easier to obtain in the world than color. But Lebanon’s economic collapse, coupled with rising film prices, has made any film difficult to find in the country. “There are only two or three places where you can find movies,” Khoury said. “I gave up. I decided to stick with digital because it’s really hard to make movies.
Shaking off the unmistakable look of analog isn’t easy, though. Scott Mutasaa photographer in Zimbabwe, said he started retouching his digital images to mimic the film after he was unable to find new rolls.
As photographers struggle to get their hands on classic 35mm color film, some smaller manufacturers are trying to meet demand by releasing their own color stock. Over the past year, independent brands Adox, dubblefilm and CineStill, as well as small German manufacturer Orwo, have all launched new 35mm color film.
Some even see an increase in demand. When FlicFilm, a company based in Albert, Canada, started producing film two years ago by converting Kodak motion picture film into photographic film, it was producing about 250 rolls a day. “We are going to have to speed up [in 2023] because our anticipated demand is well beyond our current 1,200 [rolls a day]said founder Dave Marshall in December. The company has even stepped in to help makers who have been hampered by steel shortages finish their film, taking their raw film base and converting it to 35mm film cassettes using their plastic canisters. of local origin.
But for photographers who want consistency in their work, the shortage of conventional 35mm film remains a problem.
“I’m a stubborn guy,” said a London-based photographer Joao Barreiroswhich runs exclusively on Kodak Portra 400. “What I love about Portra 400 is that it’s exactly how I see the world,” he said.
“What I love about Portra 400 is that it’s exactly how I see the world.” —João Barreiros
Barreiros started photography during the pandemic and now shoots documentaries and fashion campaigns for Vans, ASOS and National Geographic. He said he had no interest in trying different films, even after wearing Portra out completely about six months ago. “I didn’t let it happen more than once,” he said. “It’s my job. People come to me for a certain style, so I won’t disappoint them.
Fortunately, Barreiros has found that as an established photographer with a regular supplier, he has priority access to stock, which he says is the same for many professionals. “It’s like hunting or Formula 1: film photography is a sport for the select few,” he said. Although he is not convinced, even if he is among the selected. With the price of the film becoming increasingly inhibiting, Barreiros was unsure of his future in film and he began to experiment with digital work.
While high prices make it harder for analog to survive in the future, the shortage also speaks to its growing popularity and hope that the industry can rebound. “I think analog will always have a place in professional photography,” Barreiros said. “It’s not something everyone can do and we like exclusivity, don’t we?”