By Tim Sewell. 8th march 2018
Is there anything left to say about this film stock? I'm late to the party, I know - and the fact that I even bought a roll of the stuff was due to the sheer acreage of admiration for this wunderkind emulsion that I'd read across the internet. Nonetheless, when you find a new love you want everyone to know it, so here is my own small contribution to the paean of praise for the one, the only Ektar.
I bought into the legend last October, in the first flush of my return to analogue photography, immediately loading it into my Yashica Electro (that camera having just previously proven itself to be lightproof and Pad-Of-Death-free). I managed a few shots before reality, in the shape of a grey and gloomy English winter, exerted its grip. For 2 weekends, the camera - at the time my only film body - sat neglected on the shelf, wondering why I'd adopted it if I didn't want to nurture it.
Did you know that this winter has been Europe's gloomiest for years? That some cities across the continent enjoyed less than an hour of cloud-free skies through the whole of December & January? I did.
Eventually I swapped it out, 10 shots in, for something more appropriate to the season and consigned it to the film shelf in the family fridge; there to languish until two weeks ago, when the sun suddenly remembered the existence of the British Isles.
This time it went into my newly acquired Canonet QL19. The little chap hadn't yet been cleared for light leaks, but I'd replaced the seals and I just knew that he wasn't going to let me down, so robust and reliable did he feel in my hands. I'll admit I was excited as I shot the remaining 24 frames over the course of the weekend and by the time I loaded the film into a Paterson tank one evening the following week I was in a state of high anticipation.
Then? Disaster, that's what.
My Paterson tank is of the new kind - the lightproof lid doesn't screw on, like lids do. You twist it and a couple of lugs on the wall of the lid engage under a couple of lugs on the interior of the top of the tank and that's it. The sealing top is a little hard to make watertight in a hurry, too, so I've generally switched to agitation with the little twist rod thingy rather than the inversions I've been used to since 1978.
What I hadn't factored in was that this twisting of the reels within had disengaged the retaining lugs, so that when I started pouring the developer back into its bottle the bloody lid fell off exposing the Ektar (and the Lomography 800 it was bunking with) to my kitchen light.
I swiftly replaced the lid, but it was with a sense of futility that I went through the motions of bleach, fix and stabilisation (no matter what my wife might have said on Facebook she did not come in at this point to find me weeping - even I'm not quite that sad).
I've never won the lottery. I could finance a Leica with the cash I've squandered on the bloody thing since John Major distracted us from economic gloom with its introduction in 1994 (a friend of mine did win - in the very first week - all gone now). On this night, however, I felt as though I had because on hanging up those wet rolls of acetate to dry I couldn't see any fogging in either of the films.
Then when I finally got the film into the scanner? Well, I had ordered another 5 rolls before the first pre-scan was even finished. The image (at the top of this page) that greeted me on the laptop screen was so vivid, so detailed, so possessed of soul-drenchingly beautiful colour that I knew I was embarking on a new relationship that will nourish me for the rest of my life.
I could almost hear a soaring church organ as I worked my way through the roll. They were right. All those photographers who had filled the web with encomiums to this magical stuff were right, in spades. There was a minor magenta cast due either to my accident or to my poor temperature control, but other than that these images were what I'd been looking for in a colour film. Ektar, you've got me for life and I know you'll look after me.
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