This, my first roll of Ferrania P30, black and white negative film, yielded thirty seven exposures. You’ll see here only thirty five. I store my negatives in mylar sleeves – seven rows of five frames each. Foolishly, I cut one frame right in half thinking I’d cut between frames. Luckily I took two shots of that subject. Another frame made the strip just too long to fit in the mylar sleeve, so off it came. There’s no “undo” button in analogue photography, so thirty five frames it is. That’s more than enough to illustrate my first experience with this black and white film.
I grew up in the east central part of the City of Hamilton in Ontario Canada. Hamilton in the 60’s when I was growing up was an important heavy manufacturing centre nicknamed the “Steel City”. My end of town was full of European immigrants; Polish, Italian, Portuguese, English, Hungarians, Germans and many others. They came in search of work which was plentiful in the nearby factories. Ownership of the early 1900’s housing stock was earned by hard work and the pride of ownership showed in the great care most took in keeping their properties. By default, the neighbourhood benefited as well.
That was then. About three years ago when I picked up my camera again for the first time in fifteen years or so, one of the first places I began to explore was my old hood. How it had changed! Barton St., once a vibrant if not prosperous commercial route, was rife with boarded up stores or those that had been converted into makeshift apartments or simply abandoned. The condition of the houses on most streets had really declined. The former proud owners of those old homes were long gone. This east end neighbourhood had fallen on hard times. Trimmed lawns, backyard vegetable and flower beds were a thing of the past.
Nowhere is the decline more evident than in the system of alleys that run behind the rows of houses between the streets laid out in grid form for blocks and blocks. It was sad to witness the derelict conditions but they did inspire me to capture those conditions on film. In these alleys where children once roamed, took short cuts to school and where backyard gardens and neatly painted porches were in full view, were now deposits of discarded needles, garbage, rotting fences and decrepit backs of homes.
I’ve been making regular visits to this section of town for about three years now. My films of choice have been TMax and HP5. Both produce excellent results – then one day…
I was in Burlington Camera, a bricks and mortar store were I buy developing chemicals, film, occasionally a used film camera and other photographic supplies. At the check out counter I always look over the film stocks on display to see if there’s anything new. On this day the clerk identified a black and white box I spotted as Ferrania P30. I’d never seen it before. He said he liked it and that I should try it. That was enough for me to pick up a roll.
Knowing nothing about this film, I began researching it. Its defining characteristics soon became evident – high contrast, low speed and fine grain. There were plenty of cautions on line about P30’s lack of exposure latitude and its potential for blown out highlights and its persnickety nature generally. But, those reviewers who liked the film, seemed to like it a lot. So I dug a little deeper. Online photos were my next source of some background. In the samples I looked at, I saw grit and rich detailed shadows. I saw a rawness and also a certain elegance. Mostly I saw potential in this film, for a much different look with which to continue my photography in those alleys.
One gray March morning I loaded my Nikon FA with my first roll of P30 and mounted a Nikkor 50mm f1.8 lens. P30 is rated at 80 ISO and conditions were pretty dim so I needed as fast a lens. And the FA has been very reliable and versatile camera for me. Dealing with the relatively low light that day, it would allow me to select shutter priority and let the aperture fall where it may. The matrix metering on the FA is hard to fool, and with this film, rumoured to be a little unforgiving I wanted the best chance of making good exposures. So, off I went once again to make images of these desperate alleys and really, anything else nearby that I thought might look good on film. Most of the images were shot at 1/60 second and around f 5.6. Surprisingly, in under two hours I had finished the roll. By noon I was at home.
That night I developed the roll. HC 110 is my developer of choice. The results on P30 I’d seen on line looked good, so HC 110, dilution “B” was it. Agitation was for the first thirty seconds and then just one inversion each minute thereafter. Total development time – five minutes.
The next day I scanned the film. I don’t post process digitized images. I don’t possess the software to do so, nor do I have the inclination to sit in front a computer any longer than I have to.
I’m not about to critique my own work but I will say that Ferrania P30 exceeded my expectations. The photographs are as gritty as I had intended. They present a harshness which is precisely what I was looking for. The film managed to accentuate the decrepit conditions I was trying to capture.
And one other important observation. I make 8″ x 10″ wet prints of my work. I scan the negatives mostly just to see which are worth the effort to print. Of these thirty five I made eight prints. The negatives are so evenly exposed that after about the third print I found that I didn’t to make any more test strips. Each print was exposed at the same aperture and for the same time. In my experience this is highly unusual and another winning attribute of this film.
So here, straight out of my scanner are the results of that roll of Ferrania P30.
Ferrania P30 is only somewhat as it was described to be. It is very fine grained. It does have plenty of contrast. As for lack of exposure latitude I’d disagree. I shot it at the rated 80 ISO and though I was somewhat careful with my settings I found just a few frames were imperfectly exposed. As for blown out highlights – no evidence of that either. And the shadow detail is remarkably good. The film actually enhanced the conditions I was attempting to capture.
If Ferrania P30 was an automobile I think it would be something powerful. Raw. Beautiful. A high performance vehicle. Perhaps an Italian sports car – a Ferrari! I love this film. I’ll be picking up more Ferrania P30 soon.
As for my little project, like neighbourhoods in decline tend to be, there are signs of improvement. I passed by the occasional renovation project and even some new construction. Some things can really be great again! I’m hoping.
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