Expired films have been exciting me for quite a long time. If I stumble across some, a chain of questions is triggered in my brain. Is the film still usable? What will it look like? Will it offer me a nice vintage appeal? In this post, I’m going to show you some photographs I took on the “vivid color” (VC) type of Kodak Portra 160, which discontinued years ago. As playground for this material served me the Ihme-Zentrum, a derelict housing complex in Hannover. Expired film for expired houses, if you like.
The Ever Present Sirens of Expired Film
On a dark and cold December night, boredom forced me to browse Ebay, looking for stuff I don’t necessarily need. I found a seller who offered single rolls of Portra VC for seven Euros, seven rolls in total. Expired 13 years ago but permanently cold-stored, the seller assured. “Use it at EI 100 and you will be fine”, the description continued. It took me less than a minute to hit the “Buy it now” button. Yeah, I bought them now, and I bought all of them. “If they are okay, I have a good amount of film to work with”, I thought. “One roll I’ll use for testing, the remaining six for a comprehensive project.” But what if the rolls are crap? “Then you have screwed up 50 Euros. Annoying, but you should be able to live with that!”, I gave myself the answer.
The good ol’ stuff came in its original box, “Value Pack” as Kodak called it. That’s not your precious five-pack you get today. No, this brick originally contained 20 rolls! Back in 2007, the pros seemed to have guzzled lots of film.
When Kodak introduced their new Portra line in 1999, the 160 and 400 ISO speeds were available in two variations: vivid color (VC) and natural color (NC). Both later merged into the “New” Portra, which we can still buy today. If you are now asking yourself how the NC type looks like, check out the post recently published by Robert here on this site.
Rise and Fall of the Ihme-Zentrum
In search of an interesting environment for the expired film, the Ihme-Zentrum crossed my mind. That’s an extensive residential and business complex here in Hannover, Germany. At the time of its construction during the early 1970s, the Ihme-Zentrum had the largest concrete foundation throughout Europe – 700 meters long and 200 meters wide. Built as a city within the city: apartments, offices, malls and restaurants. If you could afford one of the three-storey maisonettes, you had made it!
The decline slowly began in the mid 80s, when many commercial tenants closed their stores and moved back to the city center. That’s just ten years after its completion! In the mid 90s, the mall was completely empty. Investors came and went, apartment owners stayed. Today, the complex appears severely run-down at many corners. In some places, it even looks like a war zone.
Today, I can faintly recall the better years. My parents used to buy our groceries there, and each time I feared I would get lost in the underground car park. Trying on shoes at “Schuh Hess”? Well, there was hardly anything more boring and tedious for the six-year-old me. As completely opposite I experienced my visits in a small shop that sold all kinds of diecast models. Once my parents had to carry me back to the car; I just didn’t stop crying and stamping the ground after my pocket money couldn’t buy me that 1:32 scale excavator.
Working in the Field
I went to the Ihme-Zentrum on the very edge of 2020. A dull and grey day between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, when most daily routines run slowly or have stopped completely – especially during the lockdown. Only a few strollers and dog walkers shared with me the pathways along the river bank.
At first, I planned some exposure bracketing to have at least one good shot of a given scene. But then I quickly changed my mind. With only 12 shots on the roll, taking two or three images of the same subject seemed like an unnecessary squandering to me. Therefore I rated the expired film at EI 100, just as the seller had suggested. Otherwise, I relied on the hope-for-the-best approach. The sky was so stingy with light on this day that I had to expose in the several-seconds range. And this was even one hour before dusk would settle in. To account for reciprocity failure, I generously spend my images some extra seconds.
With the new investor, new rules have come. For example, a security service now patrols the site. While I was standing inside the complex exposing an image, I saw two other photographers passing by. From ten meters away, I witnessed the scene of how the two photographers ran into the patrol. The security guy immediately rose to speak: “Please, take your photographs. But I would kindly ask you to not enter the construction site or break any of the fences.” – “Thanks and no, we are definitely not intending to break any fences.”, one of the fellow photographers answered. More than a hint of perplexity in his voice. Just in this moment, the security guys noticed me standing aside. “All right, all right! I won’t break any fences either.”, I yelled.
As usual, I shot wide architectural scenes – rather from the distance than up close. That’s because I mostly prefer images that provide an overview and show buildings in their entirety. However, I think I’m going to complement them with more detail-oriented ones, for example like the one with the stairs.
Final Thoughts on Expired Film
In conclusion, the old material did a great job. I’m really happy with the results! In a subtle way, the colors of the VC differ from my regular choice, the “New” Portra 160. I couldn’t notice any age-related defects. No weird color shifts, no pronounced grain and no shining through film markings. And huge kudos also to the guys from Carmencita film lab in Valencia, Spain, who developed and scanned the film!
If you now feel the urge to dive deeper into this topic, please head over to guys of Casual Photophile. In “Ghost of Portra Past”, Drew talks about how expired film let’s him set off on a journey to bygone eras. Indeed, expired film can be quite addictive. As I’m writing these lines, I remember some rolls of Portra 800 from 2004 hiding in the back of my fridge. Maybe it’s time to unfreeze them.
As for the Ihme-Zentrum: I really hope for the residents that the new investor will renovate the complex anytime soon. Until this happens, this morbid place will probably remain an exciting location to (re-)discover.
Thanks for reading!
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29 thoughts on “5 Frames of the “Ihme-Zentrum” on Expired Film – by Christian Schroeder”
Lovely shots, as usual. ????Just a shame the complex is no longer viable and disused!???? Cheers, Rock
Hi Rock, thanks as usual! 🙂
Thank you for such an interesting post. I have a few comments.
Firstly it’s always interesting how expired film can produce such good results, as you have demonstrated. Currently I have about 60 rolls in my freezer that need to be used as soon as lockdown eases and I’ll be interested to see if they turn out as well as yours did.
The added bonus here is that you’ve chosen such an interesting subject matter. In a way it shows how things of the past are too often left to ruin, although they still have an intrinsic value, if only someone would invest in them. Just like film photography.
I’m interested in why you chose a Spanish company for the development when I am sure there are several in Germany who are very capable. Is there something special about Carmencita labs that we should know about?
Lastly you speak of areas where “In some places, it even looks like a war zone.” I guess you didn’t show any of those areas in this post. Where I have seen post-war-zones such as the Lebanon in the 70s or parts of Africa the level of devastation is beyond belief, showing how all wars are abhorrent.
Thanks once more for sharing this with us.
Re: what’s so special about Carmencita Labs: as Part of the answer you might want to check out an interview with Carmencita’s Flunder over here:
thank you very much for your comprehensive feedback! I’m glad you like it!
Why have I chosen a Spanish lab? Several well-known photographers recommended this lab, and I think, they are absolutely right. The guys from Carmencita know their profession, they are open for suggestions and act very friendly (mailing with them feels like I’m talking to friends, not to merchants). Especially the appropriate customer care is something I missed with my former lab (a German one). Sure, there is a considerable difference in the postage between sending films within Germany or sending them to Spain – for me, however, it’s worth the extra costs.
As for the war zone-like areas: I’m very fortunate that I never had to experience an actual war zone myself. I feel extremely thankful for living in peace my whole life – and I hope that my words didn’t offend anybody. In some parts, the Ihme-Zentrum exhibits solid concrete ceilings and wall that are broken and soot-blackened – as I saw this for the first time, it instantly reminded me of the television pictures from the siege of Sarajevo. (You can find some of my older (digital) images here and here.) Of course, Sarajevo and the Ihme-Zentrum are beyond comparison.
PS: 60 rolls? Impressive! I hope you’ll have lots of fun with them!
Thanks for explaining why you choose Carmencita. It’s always good to have real world feedback of these labs. I’ve looked them up and they do seem interesting.
Just to be clear, I didn’t take anything you wrote as offensive re some of the buildings looking like a war-zone. I am sorry if I gave you that impression.
Yes, the 60 rolls have various expiry dates but it will add to the “fun” of shooting them just as soon as lock down ends.
Christian, nice shots and a nice color palette in the scans. The technicians at Carmencita lab obviously know what this film is supposed to look like. Just a few days ago I was speaking with a long time friend and film shooter and we were talking about how we used to buy Kodachrome in bricks. He said that a partial brick of Kodachrome is still in his freezer. Anyway, I am a longtime fan of Portra 160, almost two decades, but I preferred the NC version back in the day. Even though your film was expired it still exhibits the look that I am so attracted to. Portra film hits the sweet spot in speed, grain and color rendition, at least for me. You also understand architectural photography principals, verticals are vertical and your compositions have a nice flowing movement to them. I particularly like the dusk image where natural and artificial light becomes balanced for a short time and a magical feeling is created. Again, great shots.
thank you for your comment! Now I’m tempted to try out the NC version myself. Recently I also learned that Kodak used to sell an UC (ultra color?) species as well as a tungsten balanced type (100T) of Portra. I assume the aforementioned films discontinued long before the NC and VC versions, as they are pretty rare today (and rare equals expensive). Bummer I missed them – and that I never shot Kodakchrome even I would have had the opportunity to do so.
Happy to hear you like the dusk shot! They are quite precious with the equipment I used as the exposure times can rapidly reach the 10 minute-range (real night shots are far worse…).
There is a wonderful incongruity, or tension, between your well composed images and the brutish quality of the place. Well done.
Thank you, Omer!
What lens did you use here? Gorgeously well exposed and perspective-controlled.
Thanks, Nathan! I used a 35mm as well as a 45mm lens on a Hasselbald ArcBody, a rather unknown field camera for the Hasselblad V-system. The lenses were made by Rodenstock (actually derived from large format); they exclusively work with the ArcBody and don’t fit on a regular V series body.
What an interesting camera, I never knew about it!
It is a fantastic tool for my purposes, I’m glad I found one. Will write a review sooner or later. 🙂
Where I have worked we always purchased film in bulk when our budget was passed. We would store it in a freezer. Over time it would lose speed but we adjusted.
Sadly, there’s no Portra in bulk (at least to my knowledge). If there was some, I would adapt your process immediately! 🙂
Interesting article Christian.
Your images, particularly the ones of the stairway and the plaza, convey that feeling of urban decay you write about so clearly. The colours and “atmosphere” produced by the film, for me, are perfect for these kind of images with the aquare crop (Hasselblad?) emphasising the nature of the architecture.
I’ve some ancient film somewhere, so this encourages me to give it a go.
Thanks for posting.
Hi Keith, thank you for your comment!
I have been taking images of this place in its various states for many years. Unfortunately, on my most recent visit of the interior, a new security guy showed up and asked me to leave. So maybe, maybe my next (future) image of the plaza will show the place in a perfectly renovated condition.
You’re right, I took the images with a Hasselblad (the specialized “ArcBody” field camera). Squares in architectural photography are a rather new thing to me, I used to utilize the classic 2:3 rectangle. It impresses me how well the square format and architecture work together!
And now go outside and shoot your ancient film! 🙂
Christian, thanks for sharing these impressive images – and your insights regarding the use of expired film.
And yes – the Ihme Zentrum: my memories of this complex are not those of a six-year-old but those of a thirty-something year-old. The electronics retailer SATURN ran a huge store here, complete with a well-stocked photographic department. This is where I would go to restock my supplies of film, paper and chemicals, and where I bought my Nikon FM2 and my F4 straight after it became available in Germany after photokina 1988.
Thanks for posting.
Oh yes, the SATURN! As a 15-year-old, I bought my first cell phone there (a discontinued, pretty basic one made by long-gone Ericsson). If I remember correctly, I also got my first camera from this particular Saturn store: a Canon EOS 500. Yeah, a large portion of my pocket money went into this place.
Thanks for commenting!
I tried to view the article but got an InternalServer Error.
Perhaps one needs to subscribe to the site to read such things.
Never mine, hopefully Christian will let me know what makes them so special.
Sorry about that – I now encounter the same error. But you can try here:
Must edit that: the correct link is
Sorry for the confusion, Jens
Beautiful images, Christian! Your film turned out extremely well, and the subject matter is quite fascinating. It reminds me a little of Ponte City apartments in Johannesburg. I’m very interested in these architectural forays in trying to build a utopian community through this all-inclusive type design, or even just by accident. I’m also thinking of Kowloon Walled City.
Hi Ben, thanks! I’m also very happy with the results – I was lucky in trusting the seller and the lab, all worked out well. (It encourages me in my approach to omit dedicated test shots, though not so sensible…)
Interesting that these images remind you of Johannesburg or Hong Kong – I always thought that in my hometown only the Ihme-Zentrum exhibits an urban density modestly comparable to a metropolis.
Christian, these are fabulous, a form of German Urban Decay. We have these ambitious mall developments all over the United States, and many are semi-abandoned and crumbling, as well. Ours were usually built as cheaply as possible, and they decay quickly. Unfortunately, many are fenced off and inaccessible, or are the domain of drug dealers and homeless. It is horrifying.
Your Portra 160VC looks fine, and I could immediately tell that you were controlling converging vertical lines. Well done!
Hi Andrew! Sorry, I’m a little late – thanks for your nice comment! You probably know the book “The Ruins of Detroit” by Yves Marchand and Ramain Meffre, don’t you? These are the most drastic images of urban decay in the US I’ve ever seen. They make me wanna visit Detroit so badly – and at the same time, I want to hide myself under my sofa. 🙂
Detroit is fascinating, but possibly it is 10 or 15 years too late. Photographically, Detroit urban destruction has been “done.” Parts of the town are revitalizing. Many other areas have streets with empty lots that have reverted to prairie land. The city tore down the houses that once lined these streets a long time ago, Arsonists torched the famous Heidelberg Art project:
Come to Jackson, East St. Louis, Greenville, Selma, or any number of other southern cities to see horrifying decay and poverty.