A failed film test: Agfa Isopan (Agfa Super Special Film) from probably 1930s.

1 Dec

How a roll of Agfa Isopan got butchered.

Film: Agfa Isopan Super Special Film (SSP)

Year of manufacture – estimated middle to late 1930s.

Format – 620 – metal spool, got a bit corroded at the ends though the film is perfect.

Why did I murder  a roll of innocent film? Because I did not believe in this film’s innocence.   Here is a short though illustrated story.

I do have some very old Agfa stock from the 1930s, like this one and I am not crazy enough to stick it into developer. I would be happy to put one through a camera if I got a dozen of those photographic mummies but otherwise no, wasting

Agfa Isopan - this one still lives, that's just an illustration and not a picture of the victim

Agfa Isopan - this one still lives, that's just an illustration and not a picture of the victim

one seems like an incredible folly.  A film that was exposed however is a different story altogether, only because it might, just might, tell a story and leaving it unprocessed would be a sin.  One of traditional,  real photography’s real attraction,  its absolute magic as opposed to the digital stuff, is that the image is latent, it is there preserved for posterity but is invisible and inaccessible to ordinary mortals. It can be brought to life at some in the future – perhaps years after its birth.   This is a magic trait of photography that I find profound, moving and disturbing all the same time.

Agfa Isopan - this one still lives, that's just an illustration and not a picture of the victim

Agfa Isopan - this one still lives, that's just an illustration and not a picture of the victim

In this case I got a roll of Agfa Super Special 620 film probably from the 1930s – judging by the spool and old Agfa inscription on it that was used in the 1920s and early 30s. I did not look at it  too carefully  – it looked like something good that could as well contain a mystery. It came from England (I bought it for 2 euros), it was German, it was probably used around or during Second World War. I must develop it.

Agfa Isopan SSF

Now, the problem with the film was that it was unexposed.  Not for an instant did that possibility occur to me because all the ancient  “unused”  film I encountered before came in original packaging complete with the wrapper or aluminum canister. This roll of Isopan came naked, no wrapper, no box, no nothing, and to confuse me further there was a rubber band died around its waist and remnants of adhesive tape glued to the red  skin of its backing paper. Later upon a more careful examination I realized that it wasn’t adhesive tape after all but a piece of original foil-like wrapper that became embedded in the surface of the backing paper.

Agfa Isopan film

vintage Agfa Isopan film

I loaded the film into the Paterson tank in the darkness of my bathroom, brought it into the kitchen, and to give it a presoak I  filled the tank with fresh tap water.  As I prepared to mix the developer – I thought of giving it a bath of Rodinal diluted 1 to 25, a sudden thought occurred to me – may be  there was something wrong with my project. I should double check   I went  back to the bathroom to check the backing paper  I left there on the table next to the sink after having skinned the roll. Here it was. I looked at it for a few seconds and mixture of anger at my own stupid self and self pity overcame me.  The film was never exposed.  It was a virgin. The “exposed” sticker was right there at the end of the roll, it was  pristine  new because  it never saw the light since the moment it left Agfa factory in the 1930s.

Agfa Isopan 620 format spool / side of the 620 format Agfa spool from the 1920s and 30s

Agfa Isopan 620 format spool / side of the 620 format Agfa spool from the 1920s and 30s

Needless to say that I did not develop the film.

It is still in the developing tank.

I poured the water off.  It came out emerald green washing off the ancient anti-halo layer from Agfa’s emulsion backing.

I have no idea what to do with it now? Feed it to the animals?  Keep it until it dries up in a month or two time and then should I try to reattach to the backing paper?  It won’t be same film. The antihalo layer is now gone.

Old Film Agfa Isopan antique 620 format

Old Film Agfa Isopan antique 620 format

Perhaps it wasn’t even murder.

Manslaughter. Or filmslaughter. I slaughtered an innocent film because I thought it was not innocent and had a mystery to reveal while it hadn’t any and so has apparently  died for nothing.


5 Responses to “A failed film test: Agfa Isopan (Agfa Super Special Film) from probably 1930s.”

  1. Harry Coster June 14, 2012 at 21:53 #

    To me this looks like a West-German (Leverkusen) mid-50s unexposed Agfa film – it does not match the late 30’s box. Pre-1952 Agfa films were all made in Wolfen like the box. Wolfen pre-1958 Agfa-films had black-on-red printing at both ends!

    • photoroobit June 15, 2012 at 20:28 #

      Well, I have a few boxes of Agfa from the 1930s that are intact and the film looks pretty much like this, though I hadn’t opened them. I still have the film in a developing tank, I might spool it again and expose.

      • Harry Coster June 17, 2012 at 12:22 #

        Sounds very strange to me. Most Agfa-films from before 1938 were Isochroms; all Isopans had the black-printed endings. Agfa Keverkusen did not start up until 1952 and the film you showed was clearly one of them. Isochroms were never produced in Leverkusen, Occasionally you’ll find Isochroms in a Leverkusen box; these were imported from Wolfen and put in a Leverkusen box

      • photoroobit July 7, 2012 at 17:38 #

        I have an Isopan from 1938 but doesn’t matter, I’ll put your “disclaimer” on top. I I understand you know a lot about photographic film in general and about Agfa films in particular, is that right?

      • Harry Coster July 10, 2012 at 11:27 #

        Not really – it’s just that we (when I was very, very young, 3-4 years old) lived almost opposite a photographer. One of my very first memories involved the paper backings of the 120-films. I could not read at the time; just took a lot of these backings home and found out later what they were. The Agfa-backings I was referring to were made in 1949-1952. Just a few years later the black endings were gone. Of course I didn’t realise it at the time that Agfa Leverkusen took over from 1952 onwards. About 10% of the backings I took home were green Kodaks (probably Plus-X).
        A few years back I bought an Isopan ISS-film via EBay. Judging from the information on the box it must have been exposed in 1941. I developed it in Rodinal 1:50 for 12 minutes at 20 C and it came out fairly well. It had 7 pictures; the last one was not exposed. The ones that did get exposed had a (at least it looked like it) Jewish family on 4 exposures, plus a few of a young child.

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