Shooting on, and developing, expired Agfa CT18

When I grew up in 1970s Berlin, Agfa films were a household name. I’m pretty sure that this is what my father used a lot, especially when it came to slides.

I couldn’t have been happier when I, just over a year back I managed to purchase a few rolls – expired in 1972 and never stored professionally – on Ebay:

Little did I know at the time what to expect of these.

I took a roll with me to Pisa, in June 2017, and shot it on my Voigtländer Vito B – the film is classed as ASA 50, and, following the rule that film degrades by about one stop every decade, I decided to shoot it at a shutter speed of 1/15 and the ‘sunny 16’ rule (which was easy enough to do in Pisa).

So far, so simple. The bigger issue became all the more pressing when I got back, namely … what to do with the exposed roll?

The packs contain a little bag/envelope to send it off for development – but the company that had produced the film as such doesn’t exist anymore. Also, the internet has it that putting it through E6 or C41 would render the roll altogether useless (or even entirely blank) – and that is assuming that one would even find a lab that is prepared to ruin their chemicals for kicks…

Already before I had left for Naples, I had asked around on Twitter, and I got this super nice response:

One of those days, I really will need to take them up on this offer – but I also hate to let go of undeveloped film, not knowing whether I’ll get anything back.

So I tried myself.

Last year then I put the film through some super cold (18C? 17C?) Ilford DD-X standard solution (I don’t remember the exact details, I’m afraid – I should have taken better notes at the time), i. e. I cross-processed it in black and white (which doesn’t remove all colour layers of the film), and let it soak in that with minimal agitation for 15 or 16 minutes.

The results already then blew my mind.

The film itself remained very dark, which made scanning a pain in the arse. Also – Agfa CT18 is a colour slide film – which made it even more difficult to capture anything with my scanner. In the end, I went for a colour scan (which came out in light yellow), and then reversed the colour to a blue. Here are some of the results (both in yellow and in blue):

So – well over forty years after this film had expired, I was still able to get something out of it, and the results were rather haunting and beautiful (and super grainy).

This year I went to the bay of Naples for a few days, and that was a good opportunity to try out another roll. Here you see it in all its beauty with its return envelope, the super cool metal storage canister, and the re-usable film canister:

So I shot the film through my Zorki 1, at a shutter speed of 1/20…

I no longer use Ilford DD-X but HC 110 as my go-to developer, so this year was a new challenge. In the end, I decided to go for an E solution, at 20.5 C, for 10 minutes. The outcome was roughly the same – this time I scanned it into a black/white image (still had to do the colour reversal, as it is obviously a positive film, and still, due to the overall darkness of the developed film, it was a pain to scan them), and voilà, here are some of the results:

The upshot?

A positively enchanting visual experience, well worth the fun and hassle as well as that fear, as the film was in the chemicals, that I might just have wasted a lot of time, effort, and chemicals for absolutely nothing.

Thankfully I got lucky again, and I hope that you will agree with me that these images have a truly unique aesthetic to them.