It is my usual form to pour scorn over everything Lomographic, from the brand's retrograde embrace of aberrations to their questionable business ethics. As an analogue photographer, what cannot be criticised is Lomography's unswerving commitment to film. Even if they are predominantly responsible for the inextricable conflation of analogue and lo-fi.
Take it to T-Max
With all this in mind, it was with some trepidation I purchased a three pack of Lomography Lady Grey 400 35mm, having found myself short of my usual T-Max 400. Local film prices (even for those with connections) in Australia just don't make it worth one's while to purchase single Kodak or Fujifilm rolls.
So I examined the Lady Grey box: "Made in USA". Promising. A further bout of googling later brought me to the conclusion that it must be Kodak Tri-X or T-Max, assuming 3M hadn't started up production of film again.
Opening the film box to load up my Leica M4, I noticed the familiar grey cap on the container usually seen on Kodak films. As I took off the Leica's baseplate and fed the film to the takeup spool, I recognised the Kodak purple anti-halation dye layer on film base as it exited past the metolius. I would shoot as if T-Max until end results or Internet told me otherwise.
Lady Grey's Lover
After processing the film (T-MAX RS), the first thing I noticed were the edge markings. Although its sole identification was "B&W 400", the typeface and numbering all revealed itself to be Kodak, without needing Big Yellow's name to appear anywhere. It's the emulsional equivalent of a Toyota Lexcen to a VN Commodore.
Looking at the results, it's easy to fall in love with Lady Grey. Shot with my Leica M4 and Summicron-M 35mm Version 4, there is an undeniable beauty to the film. Tone, grain and contrast, all of it is spot on (exposure errors excepted!). Even then, like all good modern Kodak B&W films, its wide exposure latitude means it's very forgiving of user error.
But to be content with the results of Lady Grey is is to be content with the results of Kodak T-Max 400. While Lomography deserves credit for their ongoing commitment to film, it is the long-term viability of Kodak (now Kodak Alaris) we should be hopeful for.
The recent "open letter" from Kodak Alaris to Lomography - less than the "partnership" some online news pages reported - might be a step in the right direction, although in reality I suspect the letter was little more than a nice PR gesture from Kodak Alaris.
As IMPOSSIBLE has demonstrated, once the massive infrastructure and technical wherewithal required to make film from scratch is gone, it is very difficult to revive production in anywhere near the quantities (and qualities) desired.
While Lady Grey is a stunning film, it is Kodak T-Max 400 that is the real winner. It is indeed a shame that a roll of 135/36 Kodak T-Max 400 retails Australia for around $13, whereas in the United States it can be had for as little as $4.95. A 3pk of Lady Grey, on the other hand, will set you back around $23 locally (around $7.67 per roll).