I don’t know exactly when it happened but it seems that Fomapan’s Retropan 320 has been discontinued in its 35mm variety. I hope I am wrong but I can find no store that has it in stock, B&H lists it as discontinued and the Fomapan website no longer lists it among their products. The 120 and large format varieties remain but the 35 seems to have been silently pulled.
I am often asked why I shoot film. It took me a while to come up with an answer that wasn’t just a vague rework of the old, “I just like the feel of it.” It wasn’t until I tried Fomapan’s Retro Soft 320 in 35mm that I was really able to nail it down: Film helps me see the world differently. A photograph on film is a product of more than just those photons in that moment. It’s a refraction of those photons through all the choices made in material and mechanics.
Fomapan introduced Retropan Soft 320 in 2015. It is a grainy, low contrast film. It embraces characteristics that most film photographers run from screaming. In a world of sharpness obsessives this film slams you in the face with insistent and belligerent grain. And if you’re looking for your subject to pop, you might at best get a low slow fizzle.
Its qualities seem to become more attractive to larger numbers of photographers the larger the format, which is likely why the 35mm version got the axe. The more space its obtrusive grain structure has, the smoother its effect.
Retropan 320 was originally released in 35mm and 4×5 formats. 120 arrived a couple of years later. I have taken some of my favorite photographs of the last five years on this film, particularly the 35mm version. I don’t shoot film so I can have an accurate hyper-real record of the world around me. My phone manages that just fine. A film like Retropan 35mm does what I’m looking for from film, it creates an alternate reality, an artistic product with the real world as a base and the medium of film as its filter.
The first place I used Retropan 320 was in a cemetery near my home here in Indiana. There’s a locally iconic tombstone from 19th century built as statues of the two young people who were buried there. She was a young girl and he, her brother, was a teenager. The monument is haunting on its own and every so often someone in town replaces the flowers the girl holds. I took a shot of it from behind on my Sears K2 with a 135mm f2.8 lens. I developed it at home with Fomapan’s recommended Retro Soft Developer. The result felt like a revelation to me, casting something I had seen my entire life in an entirely new and emotionally affecting light.
I shot a second roll of Retropan 320 in my Pentax k1000 with the 50mm f2 kit lens, at the Indianapolis Museum of Art again photographing statues. Once I had developed this roll I knew Retropan had a permanent place in my bag. It made me feel like I was peeking through a keyhole in on another dimension.
Any time I expect to shoot scenes that seem misplaced in time, Retropan 320 has been my go-to. At the Indiana State Fair I got a picture I greatly admire of a young woman in period dress writing out the menu for a meal on a chalkboard. Captured in Retro Pan she appears otherworldly yet charmingly mundane.
In 2018 a friend was getting married in New Orleans. He and I went out early one morning to walk around and get pictures of the French Quarter as the sun came up. It was misty and empty, only fit for photographers and ghosts. I had my Canon AE1 Program, Canon 20mm f2.8 lens and a roll of Retropan 320. The pictures I took that morning could not have been achieved with any other film I know of.
I am trying not to be overly melodramatic about the loss of Retropan 320 in 35mm… I still have the other varieties and maybe I’ll try pull processing something like Ilford Delta 3200 to see how it compares. But in the meantime I think I’m going to stare at some of my old scans and sigh despondently.
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