As film photographers, we’re not expecting instant gratification from our photography, no matter if our film lab is down the street or halfway across the world. For many of us, the anticipation of seeing our hard work days after the shutter clicks is why we shoot film. But that’s what makes FP-100C so special. It was one of the few analog processes that blended instant gratification with a dreamy analog feel.
18 years ago, Fujifilm released FP-100C peel apart film. Commercially, it was used for passport cameras as well as lighting tests on big production shoots, but as digital became more common in the commercial world, its utility dwindled. FP-100C was similar to Polaroid 669, which was discontinued in 2008. However, FP-100C had better contrast and saturation. As long as you got a good exposure, this type of film delivered a near perfect image. Peel apart film was especially unique because a paper-backed positive print was produced with every frame, but the emulsion could even be “cooked” off, producing a seran-like layer that could be dried on a piece of art paper, producing a truly one-of-a-kind piece.
But, despite the creative benefits of FP-100C, Fuji deemed it unnecessary in the current digital market and discontinued it in 2016. I must confess, I’m trying my hardest to write this without ranting at Fujifilm’s deliberate exodus from the film industry. Over the last 5 years, Fujifilm has discontinued: FP-100C, Acros 400, Superia 200, Superia 800, Pro 160S, Pro 400H and Pro 800Z, among others. Film may not appease shareholders, but it’s inclusion as an alternate medium for photographers is vital for the preservation of photography as an art.
Years ago, I worked at a camera store and rental house in Los Angeles. As digital took over in the mid-00’s, I was able to acquire the old analog passport camera that relied on peel-apart film. I had no imminent plans for the camera, but I love quirky old cameras and figured I’d find a use for it someday. So when news broke that FP-100C was going to be discontinued, I jumped in the car and drove over to Samy’s Camera to buy some packs of film. Like the old passport camera, I had no imminent plans but I knew I’d find a project to use it for someday.
Today, backstock of FP-100C can easily sell for over $100 on eBay however all of it is expired and unless it’s been stored in a freezer, will likely show some degradation. At $100 per pack, you’re looking at $10 per photo. Once you consider the likelihood of 1 or 2 shots being ruined due to mechanical issues, it’s more like $12 per photo. This film ain’t cheap.
By 2018, I was shooting as a humanitarian photographer in the nonprofit sector when I started to hear about the migrant caravan in the news. By that time I had developed an interest in migrant issues and I wanted to see the caravan myself, free of hyperbole and partisan bias. Out of curiosity, I started reading about the asylum process when I saw that a passport photo is required. So I grabbed about 25 packs of film and my passport camera before setting off for Northern Mexico.
Shooting FP-100C isn’t easy: It’s slow, sometimes the chemicals don’t spread evenly across the positive, the print is left with a sticky gel on it, etc. On top of that… working in a migrant camp while explaining a photographic project with limited Spanish is very tricky. The passport camera itself has a fixed focus, so careful framing and measurement was required.
But despite the stress and occasional bad frame, the project was humbling to say the least. Everyone was shot twice: one photo for them, one posed picture for me. Although some of these people needed photos for their visa applications, some just wanted pictures of themselves, either as a keepsake or to mail back home and let loved ones know they are ok. Nearly everyone I met had abandoned all of their belongings back home, so for some people I met, this picture was the only photo they had of themselves.
I wish I could say I remember shooting my final frame of FP-100C. I wish I could describe some sort of emotional reaction I had, knowing that this would be the final frame captured through my quirky passport camera, but honestly, film is meant to be shot. Cameras weren’t designed to be collected. Film isn’t intended to be stockpiled, with each and every frame used on a meticulously calculated exposure. Film is meant to be burned through with risks taken and experiments tested. Even the most talented photographer can have a frame or two misfire with FP-100C. If there’s anything this film has taught me, it’s to take those risks and enjoy every last frame on that roll (or pack) of film while you still can. If you happen to be in the Brooklyn area, grab the gold, as Photodom actually has a few packs left in store!
Alex Cave is a photographer & storyteller who specializes in documenting the non-profit & NGO sector. Check out his body of work here!