In my 6 months of casual film photography, I’ve learned that airport security can be generous about hand-checking analog film. Many will do it if you ask nicely. Once, a smiling security officer in Manila noticed me clutching Ziploc bag of film cannisters, and offered to hand inspect them before I could even ask.
This unfortunately was not true for the Abu Dhabi Airport’s transit hall at midnight, where I was trying to catch a connecting flight to Istanbul for work. The transit hall was filled with passengers pushing for a place in the crowded security queue, and airport staff was in no mood to do favors for anyone, even if they carried a company-sponsored business class ticket. My pleas to hand-inspect my film went unheard.
I was a month into film photography then and brought nothing but analog cameras with me. My Ziploc bag contained 10 35mm rolls, and five of them were different variations of Kodak Vision 3 – a film stock I’ve never used before. As the Ziploc bag disappeared into the belly of the beast, I began to stress about losing my only means of documenting this trip.
The Internet doesn’t have satisfying conclusions about the impact of airport scanners on analog film. “X-ray scanners do not damage film,” says a Redditor who is so sick of this discussion. Others say film rated ISO 800 or less will be fine, unless they went through the new TSA CT scanners. Then unprocessed film will be obliterated regardless of their ISO.
Abu Dhabi airport’s rattling scanners looked nothing like the sleek, film-killing CT scanners I just Google Image Searched. I felt optimistic that my rolls would emerge unharmed.
That optimism was justified a week later, when a film lab at Sultanahmet processed the Kodak Ultramax from my weekend at Cappadocia. Not a single sign of fogging or wavy line in sight! Perhaps the Redditor was right to be so sick of this discussion.
On my last Friday in Istanbul, I loaded my Ektar H35 camera with Kodak Vision 3 200T and took the ferry to Kadıköy. I spent the last two weeks traveling with my Minolta SLR, and I was growing tired of the “serious” photographer it was turning me into. Kadıköy with its towering street murals, colorful streets, and free-spirited energy was a great place to run wild with a half frame camera.
I’m glad I chose to have fun in Kadıköy instead of trying to create perfectly composed images. I would soon learn that ECN-2 film is particully vulnerable to x-ray damage, and that I’d be deeply disappointed by how most of them turned out. The 500T rolls looked dull and had an unpleasant lavender cast – nothing like the images I thought I took with my SLR’s viewfinder.
However, the 200T scans from Kadıköy were a pleasant surprise despite looking blurry and faded. Each image had a charming blue cast and well-placed foggy streaks that highlighted the neighborhood’s quirky nature and my own carefree approach to exploring its streets.
Now that I know how much an x-ray scanner can wreck ECN-2 film, I’ll only travel with Kodak Vision 3 when I’m feeling experimental and adventurous. Who knows what offbeat images I’ll get the next time airport security shoots down my hand-inspection request.
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