visual spectrum: elegy for Provia 400


It seems that almost every day another film disappears from the market.  The most recent to go are Fuji’s Provia 400 slide film and Neopan 400 black and white.  Slide films especially are expensive to make and as companies like Fujifilm look to their bottom line (apparently Fuji makes just 1% of its profit from film sales at this point) these films are likely to continue to disappear from the market.  As Darren Elliott points out in a beautiful but depressing post about slide film, many of the films that were famous for their qualities when cross processed have already vanished from the market, taking with them an entire field of photographic possibility.  Photographers like Sean Lotman, who have developed a style that’s dependent on the effects produced by cross processing, have wondered aloud what will happen once the stocks of the films that they use have gone.  Needless to say there’s a lot of hoarding going on.

Even if you take cross processing out of the equation, each time a film stock disappears it’s as if the biosphere of photography has lost another species.  The qualities inherent in any particular type of film are unique and once that film is gone those qualities will never walk the earth again.  One of the unique qualities shared by both 100 and 400 speed Provia slide film is a beautiful blue luster that is cool and elegant, and almost ghostly.  This quality is evident in several of the most recent shots posted by Sean Breslin on his excellent photography blog — the photos taken at Minami Ise, Shima and Minami Ise, and the rainy season series all display this quality.

While Provia 100 is a beautiful film, Provia 400 is far more versatile when it comes to handheld photography in low-light situations.  Of course, Provia is a daylight film so artificial lighting tends to play havoc with the spectrum, but in fact I quite like the effect — especially when things go all crazy orange and yellow under the ersatz sun of manufactured daylight.

I haven’t shot a lot of Provia 400, but I’ll miss it when it’s gone.

(All shots taken using a Voigtländer Bessa R2A with 35mm Ultron lens.)


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