Few films in history have made a splash as big as Kodak's Tri-X film. When talk of Kodak going into bankruptcy emerged in late 2013, professional photographers scrambled to buy as much of this film as possible, even as the rest of the world moved towards digital photos. There's a reason many professional photographers forego the ease and cost-saving benefits of black and white digital photography: Tri-X film is still believed to be a practice and art form that simply cannot be matched by sophisticated digital sensors and filter-editing programs. Its look is truly unique; and Kodak would be wise to keep it around.
This film is best known for its bold aesthetic that disrupted the traditional look of black and white photography over 60 years ago. Before its existence, black and white photography photography was rooted in the perfected and glamorized 1930s cinema-style black and white. Its characteristics included wide tonal ranges with many shades of grey, which is very flat in appearance. By the time the Sixties rolled around, the world was rapidly changing; and it was ready for something visually different. Tri-X, introduced in 1954, introduced a black and white film with a very narrow tonal range. Its grainy and contrasted look rejected the glamorized world and better portrayed the real one. A new set of photographers documenting drugs, sex, rock and roll, and war photography all eagerly embraced Tri-X film. Imperfect results, visible grain, and stark tonal shifts of Kodak's Tri-X film felt real; it humanized images and told a story in a way the world had never seen before. Some of history's most famous images were taken on Kodak's Tri-X film. Google it if you get a chance. It's fascinating.
Kodak Tri-X is also one of the most flexible and forgiving of any film in existence. The film has an incredible ability to withstand an enormous exposure miscalculation by the camera or photographer and still produce a photograph worthy of print. With this film, amateurs can mess up all they want. Professionals too are able to worry less about camera settings and focus on their subject.
In the digital age, where photos have once again gone back to perfection, and everyone's shots seem to look alike, I find comfort in the imperfection I get with Tri-X. For me, it's an art.