Rollei Ortho 25 Plus is easily my favorite film, and it’s probably the one I use least often. It’s obviously a lot easier, and less conspicuous, to load my Nikon F2 with a roll of Kodak Tri-X 400, push it to EI 1600 for a long walk and call it a day. But, when I do have the time, and I prepare myself for the inevitably social task of shooting long exposures in one of the busiest and most crowded cities in the world, I’ll load Rollei into my Hasselblad, pack a tripod and do what I like best – shoot long exposures at box speed.
These frames were taken in the course of an hour with a Hasselblad 500CM and an older 80mm f/2.8 Zeiss Planar C (not one of the T* models). They range from 15 seconds to about 2 minutes. Shooting in one of the most visited spots of the city doesn’t usually lend itself to long exposures unless you’re going for those ghostly images of people walking through the frame. With the pandemic, though, things in Central Park got quiet for quite some time, and I was able to go mid-day and late afternoon for the sunlight.
I don’t pretend to know much about film. I’m not a person who can tell you all about the emulsion of this particular film, or the perfect temperature and time ratio to develop every roll. I just know I like shooting it, and I know when I like the look of a picture. It is, after all, an art form – subjectable to subjectivity. For me, this film yields a balance between stark contrast and fine grain, which allows for unique depth and detail.
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You can see how the grain was brought out by a 2-minute exposure facing those arches in a dark corridor, but you can also see how fine it can be in a 15-second exposure, facing a subject head-on with decent natural light. I was lucky on this particular day to be in the right place at the right time, with very few people stepping in the way. The subject had arranged himself photogenically in the center of the arches long before I arrived to find him.
Being colorblind, I almost always shoot black and white. The look of this particular film is exactly what I love about photography. It’s timeless in the sense that, were it not for a few articles of clothing, you’d never know what time period you were looking into. Film takes that moment in time and translates it into an image for the viewer’s imagination. For me, that’s what photography is. Rollei Ortho does just that, in a way that I really like.
~ J Balcourt
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