ongoing series: infra
These photographs are part of my ongoing exploration into Kodak Aerochrome “color infrared” film. The defining aspect of Aerochrome film is that one layer of the emulsion is sensitive to infrared wavelengths of light–that is to say that objects which reflect infrared light appear pink and purple on the film slide rather than their “real” color characterized by the reflected visual wavelengths our eyes sense.
Aerochome was first developed by Kodak in conjunction with the US military in the 1940’s for camouflage detection: plants and shrubbery (which contain chlorophyll) appeared pink and purple while other camouflaged objects and people remain their normal color. However, the art community began to embrace the other-worldly, psychedelic look of the film in the 1960’s. Notable uses of this stock (and works which have personally inspired me) include the album art for Jimi Hendrix’s “The Jimi Hendrix Experience”, Elliot Landy’s portraits of iconic artists like Bob Dylan, and more recently Richard Mosse’s projects “The Enclave” and “Infra”.
The special thing about Aerochrome is that the look of the film cannot be faithfully reproduced by any means, including digital manipulation: the way that infrared light interacts with the subjects of each image is fleeting, unpredictable, and impossible to be faked. Every shot truly has its own special something, and using the film is trying to anticipate light that is imperceptible to the naked eye. So, beyond the wonderful novelty of the colors and look of this film, it is an exciting and dynamic conceptual tool for post-modern photography.
Unfortunately, for all the wonders which this film provides, Aerochrome is incredibly difficult to both find and shoot with.
Kodak discontinued producing Aerochome in 2007 due to the lack of demand, so any remaining stock is over a decade old (“expired”) and hand-cut. I feel very lucky to have obtained some of the last 120mm rolls from Dean Bennici, who stockpiled the film before its discontinuation and has sold it ever since, generously providing his unparalleled knowledge and experience (his site is linked here) to those who seek it. Sadly, however, unless Kodak intervenes, the supply of unshot film will soon be completely diminished.
Further, the film is not easy to shoot with. Like most reversal films, it has an incredible narrow exposure tolerance and low dynamic range: absolutely nailing the exposure is critical. This is more complicated than it may seem, though, because the exposure is greatly influenced by the quantity of (imperceptible) infrared light and a flexible ISO which changes with altitude. Additionally, shooting requires the use of a color lens filter, of which different colors and intensities yield different results (and different exposure compensations). Finally, the film stock uses a mostly retired, entirely complicated, and noxious chemical development process (E6) to yield the final slide.
So, while shooting Aerochrome is a challenging endeavor, I’ve shot 2 rolls so far and am absolutely hooked. All of the applications and creative possibilities are so exciting, and as I procure more film stock I hope cool new places to put the film and make new photographs.