Back in mid-May 2016, we invited you all to submit your questions to Ilford Photo for the second in a new series of community interviews here on #EMULSIVE. As with the first, the premise is simple: we collect questions from you, the film photography community, package them up and then work with the interview subject to get them answered and published.
Well, we’re ready to share the results!
Thank you’s and introductions
A massive thanks to everyone who got involved – we had a total of nearly 30 questions from you and as you’ll see from the final Q&A below, we chopped, diced and spliced as many as we could together for a BUMPER submission to the very kind folks at Ilford.
I’d like to extend a big thank you to the panel for this interview: Jo Farrell, Craig Pindell and Sandeep Sumal. The process resulted in quite a bit of offline discussion between the four of us (most of it remaining on-topic ;)). With their diverse backgrounds, experiences and focus, Jo, Craig and Sandeep helped both set bar with their initial panel questions; as well as the final form for the Q&A you see below – thank you.
Before we jump in to the interview itself, here’s a little from Michelle Parr, who’s been coordinating things from Ilford’s end these past few months.
Over to you, Michelle:
“I work as part of our MarComms team doing a variety of things, but primarily look after our social media streams, so when you’re chatting or sharing with us, it’s likely to be me that you’re talking to.
It’s been really exciting recently with the introduction of Instagram and the blog, plus we have such a great core of followers over Facebook and twitter who we know are always up for a chat and a bit of banter! I’ve worked at Harman Technology for nearly 15 years in a variety of roles, and can honestly say that I really enjoy my job. (Most of the time anyway!). I’m a self confessed geek and have a real passion for the beauty of black and white film photography.”
We sat down as a team to go through the questions as we wanted to give you the most detailed answers that we could. At the table were:-
Giles Branthwaite – Sales and Marketing Director
Although new to Harman in February Giles has over 6 years experience in this industry and he’s already got hid kids shooting with film!
Matt Parry – MarComms Manager and Pro Photographer
We’re converting Matt back to using film alongside his digital camera gear. He shot his first roll of Delta 400 13 years ago in Cuba and his first roll of HP5+ a couple of weeks ago in the Lakes.
Neil Hibbs – Tech Services and Ilfordlab manager and photo-geek
Neil recently helped turn his Dad’s garden shed into a darkroom, helping print his Dad’s stunning negatives of the 1950’s and 60’s. Neil’s worked at Harman for over 28 years.
You’ll find each of the questions we submitted for review below, as well as accompanying commentary from the panel, and Michelle’s response. We’ll be starting with the panel questions and then moving on to those submitted by the community. We’ve tried to provide credit for each question to the person/people who submitted them but if for some reason you’ve been missed out, please raise your hand so we can update accordingly.
One final thing before we get stuck in…
Unless you’ve been living under a rock recently, you’ll have seen Ilford’s “tea-ser” campaign on social media. It caused a bit of a stir, so I begged Michelle to ask one more question. Let’s start with that:
— ILFORD PHOTO (@ILFORDPhoto) July 19, 2016
MP: If there’s enough demand then we will do them, we’ve got loads going on at the minute so it won’t be straight away though!
So there you go. Mic drop, etc. If you want those mugs for your daily tea or coffee fix, the only thing to do is flood Ilford’s inbox with messages – click here to do it before you read on 😉
On to the interview:
The EMULSIVE x Ilford community interview: results time
Panel question 01: Craig Pindell (@cpindell1)
The ILFORD name has been associated with top quality products for as long as I have been a photographer, and in nearly 40 years, I have never had a quality issue with any ILFORD product. Kudos for maintaining that incredible record. You have also been able to survive in a very tough market where other companies have gone bankrupt and left the marketplace – more kudos to you!
Not all of your products suit my photography, but due to the range of products you offer, I have found the materials that fit my vision and style. I am wondering if there are new products in the works, or perhaps some expansion of current offerings (Pan F + in sheet film?), or if you are standing pat with what you offer now?
Michelle Parr: Thanks for the kind comments Craig. We love hearing feedback like this as we are extremely proud of what we do. We never take our customers’ support for granted so feedback is extremely important to us. We know we play a key role in the black and white analogue photo community and that is something we intend to do for many years to come.
Regarding your question on new products / range extensions the short answer is we don’t have any imminent product announcements. However, it is worth explaining the process on this.
Any new products have to meet certain criteria. They have to be sufficiently different yet still generate a level of demand to ensure it is viable to produce at an attractive price for our customers.
Our existing products are therefore kept purposely diverse to appeal to a range of photographers and genres while having the longevity they need. We do get requests from customers for specific sizes / range extensions and we are exploring ways to collect and collate information to be able to measure levels of interest.
This will almost certainly mean that new products will be introduced in the future so watch this space!
Panel question 02: Jo Farrell (@JoFarrellPhoto)
To many people black and white film and paper is synonymous with the name ILFORD. As the predominant B&W film manufacturer worldwide, what are your plans to engage and inspire the resurgence of analogue users? It appears that ILFORD is more reactive than transformational in engaging its audience.
Have you thought about creating an ILFORD community — along the lines of engaging and utilising photographers work, thoughts, and ideas — through publication of users work? (I have seen this incorporated into Hasselblad, BBC, CNN, Nat Geo and the Guardian websites). Perhaps a lecture series (which you used to do in the 1940s), exhibitions and sponsorship?
Any plans to revive one or all of your newsletter/magazine or book series (such as The ILFORD Courier 1934; ILFORD Message 1936; ILFORD News; Panchromatism; Picture Beautiful Britain 1951, Flower identification books, and the Winter and Night Photography book).
And finally, when will the “Master of Photography” book (10th edition was 2010) be updated? How does ILFORD plan to drive actions and reactions from its core users and engage new ones? How will they adapt to a growing global community of connectivity? What customer engagement strategies will they implement in the near future?
MP: Hi Jo, we love this question, you have a great sense of timing!
You’re correct that historically we have been more reactive, however since the change of ownership in 2015 our strategy is changing and it is now very much our intention to become more interactive in the analogue photo community. We’ve already started to ramp up our social media presence on Twitter and Facebook, along with launching Instagram and a Blog. All of which showcase some amazing work from talented and passionate photographers.
We’re really keen to engage with our existing customers as well as inspire a new generation of film photographers. We have lots of ideas on how we can be more proactive with our communications in future which ranges from competitions, videos and blogs to local ‘ILFORD inspires’ events, (the first of which, Silver Stories goes live in Philadelphia in early August). Fundamental to all of these is the redevelopment of our website which is our key priority at the moment.
We don’t have any current plans to revive the magazines at the moment, but newsletters are a definite possibility once the website is up and running. We know we have a lot to do but we are taking it one step at a time to make it as useful and engaging as possible for our customers.
Panel question 03: Sandeep Sumal (@Givemeabiscuit)
Harman Technology (manufacturer of ILFORD PHOTO) was purchased by Pemberstone Ventures Ltd, a U.K. based investment company last year. It was good to hear the CEO of Pember stone talk about the potential of analogue photography and your CEO talk about a five-year plan.
Generally, and maybe unfairly, it is normally perceived that an investment company is only looking for returns for its investors and a sale – at profit – at some point in the future. Given that some time has now passed for Pemberstone to start work with you as a business partner, are you able to share any insights into how ILFORD will be looking to move forward to grow and to connect with film photographers of all ages, plus any reassurance for this group who have seen (from other manufacturers), film stock after film stock discontinued and prices continuously rise.
MP: Thanks for the question Sandeep.
There have been some significant changes here since we were purchased by Pemberstone Ventures in 2015. It was a huge compliment to the film and darkroom industry that a private equity firm recognised the potential in the market. They are 100% committed to helping us grow this market internationally.
We plan to remain ‘the best in black and white’, and along with the wider analogue photo community, we intend to drive this industry forward. As we mentioned above we have a number of plans to do this including a new website, engaging content and series of events that will get both new and existing users recognising just how incredible it is to shoot film and process images in a darkroom. We don’t intend to remove any products from the range.
Panel question 04: EMULSIVE (@EMULSIVEfilm)
For many years now you have run an annual ULF ordering window to allow your customers to purchase special order runs of your films. Thank you. Can you see yourselves expanding this concept into pre-orders, or crowdfunding projects focused on film in formats you do not currently produce? For example, I’d personally love to see SFX in sheet film form.
There are many recent examples of crowdsourcing successes in the film photography space from the likes of Cinestill, Galaxy and of course, Lomography; and in my personal opinion, any such project from ILFORD would generate significant interest.
MP: Hi EM, firstly, thank you for letting us be involved with this Q&A. As with Jo above, your timing is spot on.
It has always been important for us to offer our customers a range and choice of formats and the ULF window allows us to define demand for the least commonly used items. While the ULF system still works well we appreciate it is not perfect and so we have been exploring alternative approaches including a variation on crowdsourcing.
At the moment one of our main priorities is modernising our web presence but we will be looking at how we can integrate the ULF process and/or crowdsourcing into the site as we progress.
Panel question 05: EMULSIVE (@EMULSIVEfilm)
The switch to the PLUS versions of HP5 and FP4 was nearly 30 years ago (1989 and 1990 respectively). To the best of my knowledge, HP5+ was specifically an answer to Kodak’s Tri-X 400 update and an attempt to provide better flexibility for push processing for the all-important “Fleet Street” crowd.
Given the decline in volumes of film being used for traditional print media do you feel that there’s still room to make enhancements to the existing formulae of these and your other films? Can you talk us through enhancements to these stocks over the years, that we may not be familiar with?
MP: Like many manufacturers we need to ensure our products are continually reviewed to ensure they remain the best options available in their class. Some changes are necessary (for example where changes in the legislation mean alternative components in the process need to be used) but others we develop to enhance the product.
As such HP5+ and FP4+ have seen many incremental improvements during their lifetime. Prior to the “Plus” upgrades the films saw many manufacturing improvements including the shift to cascade coating, emulsion plant changes and most significantly the change of their production location when we moved manufacturing to the Mobberley site in Cheshire in 1983.
When the plus upgrades were introduced, HP5+ in particular was a major upgrade including improved push processing, broader compatibility with different developers and improved exposure latitude. More recently the films have benefited from further improvements such as anti-spot and anti-static additives and improved stress susceptibility.
We have implemented ongoing refinements to the manufacturing process to further improve the consistency and repeatability of production.
In finishing the products, we have now manufacture our own cassettes and roll film wrappers. This has given us improved control over the quality and consistency of these operations too.
A great deal of R&D resource is allocated to ensuring we are protected from external factors, such as raw material availability or changes. This is vital as it ensures the viability of these and other films for future generations. In keeping with this approach any future improvements are likely to be small and incremental rather than major redesign
Community question 01:
Contributed by @schneidan
Expanding on Craig’s starter question, I’ve read in forums that there’s a technological reason Pan F Plus doesn’t work in sheet film format. Could you explain (science-y details welcome!) exactly what the barriers are, and if you have considered investing in R+D to make it possible?
Finally, the lack of availability of my favorite emulsion in sheets is part of the reason I don’t make more effort to use my LF cameras and I’d love to understand better why it is that way and if it can be changed…
MP: In this case the answer doesn’t require science-y details and is simply a matter of demand. It is technically possible to manufacture the PANF+ in sheets and should demand be sufficient then we would certainly consider it.
As we mentioned previously we are looking at ways to capture and analyse demand for non-standard products. At a minimum we are working on a new website which will have the functionality for people to express interest in less popular formats.
Community question 02:
Contributed by @ClickErik
When you brought over the Kentmere line you successfully shifted the manufacture of all of the great Kentmere papers with the exception of one. I know you tried, but the Kentmere printing out paper was such a unique and beautiful product, there literally isn’t anything like it elsewhere on the market.
Would there ever be a possibility of bringing a printing out paper back into production? It would be an excellent addition for 8×10 contact printers!
MP: The short answer to this is unfortunately no! This product was discontinued at Kentmere before we purchased the business and they were just running on existing stocks. We did bring the formulation over to our factory but unfortunately we were not able to reproduce it.
Community question 03:
Contributed by @Jonasx70
What are you thinking about alternative processes? Pre-prepared cyanotype papers might be a nice step in for new photographers.
Maybe contact printing negatives from your pinhole cameras for example. Lith developers are also of interest!
MP: We’re interested in everything darkroom.
Alternative processes remain popular and have an important role in education and creative photography. We don’t currently have plans for further products targeted specifically at this market, however there are many alternative uses of our existing products, such as photograms / luminograms, paper negatives, strobe images, solargrams, pinhole etc.
We very much encourage our customers to experiment and moving forward we will be looking to share the best ideas and successes with the community via our website, blog and social channels.
Community question 04:
Contributed by @DrMarsRover, @emmef2, John Robinson (via EMULSIVE.org)
What with the resurgent interest in photo paper negatives is there any chance that a special paper, designed to use as a paper negative, could be marketed. The challenges in using paper as a negative are excessive contrast, slow speed, and narrow latitude.
Is it possibile to even make such a paper to address these issues and if so, would Ilford be interested in developing this type of product?
What drives the decision to reformulate a paper? You have recently reformulated the Multigrade FB paper creating the new Multigrade FB Classic that shows improved linearity. Are there plans to also update the emulsion of Multigrade RC paper as well?
Is there documentation available would help photographers make calculations for starting points with new paper formulations based on notes from the previous paper?
MP: Certainly it is theoretically possible to produce a fast emulsion for paper negative photography (although it would require a significant amount of development). It is also possible to use existing papers, although speed, contrast and spectral sensitivity are all limiting factors. We have experimented with the use of Multigrade filters to reduce contrast and pre-exposure to increase speed. For example, papers such as MGRC Cooltone can be exposed at ISO 6-12 equivalent.
Many factors usually combine to make us reformulate a paper. These can be driven by market feedback, the result of manufacturing changes or process optimisation.
Multigrade Classic has allowed us to introduce performance and manufacturing improvements simultaneously. Not only do we have less waste with this product, but the emulsion technology is updated with our latest production techniques (like those already found in Multigrade Warmtone and Multigrade Cooltone).
It is possible we may roll out further changes to other products, although there is no timescale for this at the moment. Specific data for changes to MG Classic is already available in our technical documentation on the website. Anything that is not featured can be requested through our technical support team here.
Community question 05:
Contributed by: @pierluigi_tolu
Expanding a little bit on one of the panel’s question, I want to say that I’ve really appreciated your annual ULF ordering window, but I want to understand if there is room for improvements on that. I was really really excited when discovered that I’m still able to order an entire roll of my favourite old 127 format but then got disappointed when realized that backing paper was not included.
Additionally, as the order can only be placed via your local distributors, there was no idea about the minimum order quantity achievement, so no idea if the order can be placed or not. Indeed, this stopped me from placing my order.
So, the there is any chance to have these rolls with the paper? (for sure without the frame numbers, but only with placeholders)? This for sure will help this community (and your company) to keep those beautiful film formats alive!
MP: We get a lot of love for our ULF window but we agree that there is definitely room for improvement. We are currently discussing options for this such as a crowdsourcing style approach which would look to address the visibility concerns over timescales and Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ) levels. However, to manage expectations it is still early days and our bigger priority is to get the website completely redeveloped so it can work as a more practical and functional tool for customers.
Regarding the MOQ, on its own this figure may look too daunting so publishing it was always thought to be counterproductive as we had no simple way of highlighting progress towards this target. However, please don’t be put off placing a ULF order as it is worth noting that we do take orders from across the globe and have a very proactive bunch of dealers and distributors so these numbers are normally hit fairly quickly.
As for the backing paper, we do provide it as an item to order on the ULF campaign.
Community question 06:
Contributed by @padesig
I have used Ilford MG Art 300 for some of my prints with great satisfaction. In some cases, I have heard that the paper, although excellent, could not clearly compete with a hand-made paper emulsified with one of various liquid emulsions on the market.
From my point of view it is still a paper that offers a great opportunity for photographers who are starting to approach new materials in projects where not only the image, but also the texture and beauty of paper itself, make the important work proposed. What I think I missed a little bit by Ilford, is a broader view of what can be achieved with this type of sensitive paper, for example, with proper toning of the card.
It might be useful to think of a kind of collaboration between you and those who use this type of paper.
Additionally, is there the will to start thinking about proposing even more advanced procedures that go beyond the simple development of the paper (I am also thinking of other stocks, too), as tonings or other?
MP: We are thrilled that you love our Multigrade Art 300 and completely agree with you that it offers plenty of opportunities for photographers. We know people do some amazing and creative things with our papers including hand-colouring and toning and we have linked to some of these on our blog. In addition, our new website will enable customers to share their experiences and techniques and we will most certainly be showcasing some of the most inspiring.
In the meantime, a great example I would encourage everyone to look at is Tim Rudman who has explored Lith printing and toning of Multigrade Art 300. See the RPS article: Tim Rudman on Lith Printing (PDF)
Community question 07:
Contributed by @InvisibleElvis, Paul (via EMULSIVE.org)
I’m an avid lover of the less appreciated formats, 110 and 126 especially. Is there any chance or opportunity for Ilford to branch out into these formats in the future?
I have been looking for a while for 120 format cut length reels, but couldn’t find any. Will it be possible to have regularly available a 120 film format in cut lengths? Cost is an issue in particular when experimenting or revitalizing old cameras.
MP: The honest answer is that it is unlikely that we’d manufacture these very niche products due to the limited demand they would have. However, as we have mentioned previously we are looking at ways to capture customer demand for these type of products and if it reached a sufficient level to justify production i.e. we could make it at an affordable price point for customers, then we would certainly take a closer look at it.
Community question 08:
Contributed by: @alveoliphoto, @ribnar
Why are film choices so limited in ULF productions? Why is there an HP5 and not Delta 100 for 3×4 film? What are considerations if any to decide what stock to offer for a particular annual custom ULF size?
It will be great if you can share any current or future plans for low ISO sheet film like maybe a Delta 25?
Why is 35mm Delta 3200 nearly double the price of 120mm (or HP5+ in 35mm)? Can we get Delta 3200 in large format, particularly in 4×5? Please?
Have you got any plans to create any colour film or paper? have you tried securing the rights and equipment for restarting Ilfochrome?
MP: The simple answer is once again demand. We conducted a market study a couple of years ago which formed the basis of our ULF offering. Since then we have increased the list of available products.
We have no current plans for a lower ISO film, but as with the previous question if this is something that a sufficient number of people express an interest in then we will look at it.
Pricing is a tricky one, because we can’t specify selling prices so once the product leaves us it’s up to the dealers and distributors in specific territories.
This last one is much more straightforward. We have no plans for colour film or paper – our expertise and passion is in black and white.
Community question 09:
Contributed by @ClickErik
This question comes out of curiosity based on my own experience with many different materials over the years and has to do with latent image keeping properties of different films. Some films seem able to keep a stable latent image for a very long time, months years, even decades. Kodak Plus-X is one that is almost legendary in this regard.
On the other end of the spectrum is one of my favourite films, Pan-F, which seems to have a latent image stability that is quite short, with a noticeable loss of density after 3 months or so. I understand it’s always best to develop films promptly, and I rarely if ever intentionally try to rely on a film’s latent image keeping.
That said, I wonder if you could explain in layperson’s terms why emulsions differ in this regard? Is there an aspect to the formulation of emulsions that you could share with us? As I said this comes from just a curious interest to know more about the materials I use and is certainly not intended to be a negative comment or complaint about the beautiful Pan-F.
MP: The lineage of ILFORD Pan F+ film can be traced back many years, and although it has seen some upgrades over its lifetime, these have been more in line with manufacturing techniques. The “Plus” upgrade saw relatively minor tweaks to improve quality and consistency but fundamentally this product has avoided the need for significant change.
The underlying emulsion design has actually changed very little from the original PanF product and the latent image stability is an inherent feature of the emulsion design and the sensitising dyes incorporated in this particular film.
You are correct in that PanF+ does produce beautiful negatives but unfortunately does have relatively poor latent image stability. To get the very best performance it should be processed soon after exposure.
Community question 10:
As a lecturer in Further Education in the UK, I enjoy using many of your excellent products with my students. A highlight this year has been introducing students to the 5×4 format using your Titan pinhole camera. This simple and robust camera is great for students to use, and we have exposed both paper and film.
Looking at the current photography market there is an appetite for innovative products with a retro leaning. I’m thinking of Impossible Project’s new I-1 camera, as well as the success of various digital cameras that pay homage to historical forebears. It strikes me that there may be room in the market for a well-designed and affordable large format camera. Indeed some successful Kickstarter projects attest to this.
Would Ilford consider making such a camera? It would be great to see a model that could give a ‘taste’ of large format without necessarily adhering to the technical standards of the existing market. Perhaps something that could be explored through the partnership with Walker Cameras, and that may draw on Ilford’s own tradition of camera making (the Advocate, Craftsman, Prentice, and now latterly Titan).
Any plans to introduce a version that can mount glass lenses?
MP: Great to hear that you are using the 5×4 format with your students and thank you for your feedback on the Titan. We too love seeing new and innovative products and are really encouraged by the resurgence of interest in all things analogue.
While our Titan and Obscura cameras are both really popular with Colleges and Universities we haven’t any plans to introduce additional lenses for either at the moment. Likewise, we have no plans to introduce a new camera. As you rightly said there are some innovative products out there through things like Kickstarter campaigns but at the moment our core focus is on doing what we do best and that is producing the best quality black and white films and papers. As for the future… we never say never!
Community question 11:
Contributed by @DrMarsRover
When I was a teenager, my mother took an introduction to photography course in the arts program at our local college. Seeing her progress through her assignments opened up a whole new world to me, and I fell in love with black and white photography and silver gelatin prints. I became determined to learn how to print, and now – many, many years later – I have my own home darkroom.
It seems that these days many colleges do not include darkroom work in their introductory photography courses. High schools often no longer have darkrooms at all. Gallery shows seem to focus on big colour prints. There are fewer opportunities for today’s new photographers to discover the beauty of a finely crafted silver gelatin print.
What are your thoughts on the future of darkroom printing, and who the leaders, teachers, and mentors might be?
What do you see as your role in keeping this art and craft alive?
MP: The education sector is essential to the future of film photography and darkroom printing. We are seeing a resurgence in Colleges and Universities re-opening or adding darkrooms, and often hear that courses including traditional techniques are oversubscribed.
We have offered UK Masterclass training in the past to both students and lecturers but found this very difficult to scale internationally so are now trying to work with our distributors to increase skills and darkroom usage in other countries.
We see ourselves playing a big part in keeping this craft alive and want to engage with potential film users to both help and inspire them to have a go. This isn’t limited to students but also includes amateur and professional digital photographers who have never experienced (or simply forgotten) the beauty and creativity of film.
It’s a wrap
And that’s the second Community Interview is done, thank you all for reading and please leave any additional questions, or comments below. As with out previous Community Interview with Lomography, this is a living, breathing process and we don’t expect things to end just because we’ve had the initial questions answered. If you leave a comment or question below, we’ll make sure it gets to Michelle and do our best to get it answered for you.
The concept behind these pieces is to encourage and inform debate between consumers of film (professional or otherwise), and the industry that they support. We genuinely feel that these interviews can help to give the industry side of the film photography community a voice and open the way for clearer dialogue.
Only time will tell but with your support, we can make this happen.
There’s much more to come and whilst we don’t want to ruin the surprise, here’s a question for you to answer in the comments below: who would you like to see interviewed here next? We’ve got a few companies (from service to manufacture) lined-up, but would love to hear who you’d like to see next. With any luck, you’ll be seeing and hearing details of our next Community Interview subject over the coming weeks.
Thanks again for reading and please make sure to leave your comments below!
Keep shooting, folks!
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