30 Years in the Making - My Dad's Tri-X

"Downtown Indianapolis" captured with a Minolta Maxxum 700si and 30-year-old Tri-X film. Article and images by Steve Brokaw.

Let's see digital do that!  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a digital shooter professionally and personally, but I still regularly use film too.  

In fact, I just shot 2 rolls of hand-rolled Kodak Tri-X film. You may be thinking,  “But Steve, big deal, Tri-X is still available”.  True, but what makes this unique is that the 2 rolls were dated 1/20/85. That means the film was 31 years old.  Not only did the age make this situation unique, but also the fact that my Dad was the one who had rolled them.  (Let’s see digital memory cards do that.)  Needless to say, this Tri-X was special.

I found the 2 rolls in a box of assorted camera equipment while looking for a developing tank. They were in a plastic bag among about 25 empty reusable film canisters.  The box had been stored in a basement for years, so no cold storage for this film.  I really had no clue if they were any good, but I thought I’d give it a go.

To minimize variables, I decided to call upon one of my newer film cameras that I knew worked well: a Minolta Maxxum 700si.  Once roll number 1 was loaded, I walked around the outside of my house on a bright but overcast day just taking snapshots.  I used the second roll after a studio fashion shoot.  Again, outside on a bright overcast day, but more in a street photography style. 

The first roll loaded and re-spooled into the canister just fine.  The second roll didn’t re-spool once finished.  Good thing I used the Minolta, because it displayed a warning indicator that there was trouble.  

The thing about hand-rolled film, regardless of its age... the horizontal scratch.

The thing about hand-rolled film, regardless of its age... the horizontal scratch.

I didn’t want to trash the second roll, so I took the camera into a dark bathroom and opened the back.  I confirmed by touch that the tape holding the film to the spool had delaminated. The film had pulled out of the canister.  No problems, I just rerolled it onto the spool in the dark and closed it up.  I put some gaffers tape over the containers to make sure they didn’t pop open.

To eliminate the final variable I chose not to process the film myself.  I sent the rolls to The Darkroom for processing.  I added a note about the age of the film and sent it off.  Time to wait.

After about 2 weeks, I got a “good to go” email and downloaded the images.  Success! They came out.  Well, a few of the images did anyway.

This is one of the reasons why I enjoy shooting film.  I buy expired rolls and old cameras and just play.  This time however, I got to do it with Tri-X my Dad had rolled 31 years ago.  I wonder if any of my digital cameras will be able to do that after three decades.

Article and images by Steve Brokaw. You can read more about Steve's analog adventures at Film Photography Lust. His professional site is Steven Brokaw Photography. You also might want to check out Steven Brokaw on Instagram.

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