Film News: Kosmo Foto announces second film!
London-based film brand Kosmo Foto announced on Friday (11 June) its second film, launched via Kickstarter. Agent Shadow is a film noir-themed 400-ISO film that comes with some intriguing extras. We got the skinny with Founder Stephen Dowling and he tells us about its long journey to launch.
Kosmo Foto will have marked its 10th anniversary as a film photography blog in the beginning of 2022, but there’s been an even more momentous milestone along the way –it’s become a film brand as well.
Inspired by Bellamy Hunt’s JCH Streetpan 400, released back in 2016, I decided to launch a film of my own. I’ve been obsessed –there really is no other word for it – with film photography since the year 2000. I’d spent a decade and a half shooting on film cameras of all shapes and sizes. I didn’t just take film cameras on holiday, I took them on every weekend walk and pretty much every commute to work. The film bug had bitten hard.
Along the way, I’d become particularly interested in cameras from the Soviet Union, and through it the rich and brilliant school of graphic art in the Soviet-aligned world. You saw it in everything from camera boxes and manuals to propaganda posters and matchbox labels, celebrating everything from the skylines of Soviet cities to their exploits in space. Riffing off this beautifully simple Space Age art, my friend My Mate Does Art did what can only be described as a bang-up job with Mono’s retro packaging.
Mono is made by Foma Bohemia in the Czech Republic as part of their Fomapan range, and I thought it might be a modest success, selling a few thousand rolls every year. Nothing quite prepared me for what actually happened. In the following three-and-half years – with a 120 version of the film released in early 2019 – Kosmo Foto Mono has sold nearly 50,000 rolls. That’s an awful lot of snap happy cosmonauts…
While Mono is certainly pushable to at least ISO 400, I’d wanted to add a genuine 400-ISO film into the mix. Lower ISO, contrasty black-and-white films are perfect for bright sunny weather, when the light gets lower a proper higher-ISO film really comes into its own. I remember the times Fujifilm Neopan (RIP), Ilford’s HP5 and Kodak’s Tri-X have saved my photographic bacon in really low light. Come to think of it, I shoot films like these as often pushed to 1600 or 3200 as often as I shoot them at box speed.
Who is Agent Shadow?
So who is Agent Shadow? I can’t give you a straight answer, though I can tell you that the idea of a secret agent-themed film arrived in a flash one evening on a way back from home in early 2019. It was winter and I’d been reading Graham Greene’s ‘Stamboul Train’, a classic of European noir fiction. Somewhere along the trip home, the idea of comic strip – or graphic novella, if you’ll allow a little art-lobster pretension – entered my head. Of course it had to be called ‘The 36 Frames’, a noirish title which also crowbars a film reference in there for good measure.
Preparing all this for launch, it amazes me how long these tropes of noir literature and cinema – quiet cities at night, mysterious figures lurking on the edge of the shadows – have endured. It’s an atmosphere that can be so easily conveyed with just a single image.
Rather than just announce the film, I spent the last few days teasing it via the first few pages of the graphic novel, drawn by My Mate Does Art. It finishes on a proper noir cliffhanger, the perfect point to introduce the Kickstarter, though of course the story is far from over.
Is there a secret mission to carry out?
Should you buy the special Briefcase Box set – which includes five rolls of the film and the ‘The 36 Frames’ – it comes with a special magnetically sealed box made to look like a retro briefcase, with faded luggage stickers hinting at a long life lugging secrets from Point A to Point B.
Spoiler alert: the briefcase holds a very important clue to the mission. And what happens after that? Perhaps the agent will have find himself with a new mission to carry out? (Perhaps some kindly film factory owner will finally let me create my own ISO 3200 recipe…)
So how does Agent shadow perform?
As for the film, well, this is definitely one to use in moody missions down cobbled alleys or clandestine rendezvous in atmospheric bars. In autumn last year, I took some of my first test rolls of the film to Oxford to shoot some behind-the-scenes shots of a video I made to tease the film. The shot you see below was rated at 6400 – pushed four full stops – on a Leica R8 SLR. My friend Jasper had dressed up in suitably 1950s style as a mysterious agent pursued down the lamplit streets by someone… and Agent Shadow captured the detail better than I hoped.
While Agent Shadow isn’t a new emulsion, I had never seen it pushed so far beyond its box speed. The results with this roll made me itch to get out and shoot again in similar conditions. Would I have tried to do this with the original emulsion? Probably not. Clearly, the agent moves in mysterious ways…
Hopefully, a legion of new agents will soon shoot this film in lamp-lit streets across the world, in old-school bars and atmospheric restaurants, in the shadowy fringes on the edges of town squares. As film noir cinema taught us, after all, the biggest stories are always in black and white.
The film is being offered exclusively via Kickstarter before Kosmo Foto makes it available to retailers later in the year. The Kickstarter campaign runs from Friday 11 June until Tuesday 20 July. The film will be available in sets of four rolls for as little as £23, and briefcase box sets for £45 (plus postage).
Kosmo Foto Agent Shadow spec sheet:
• 35mm black and white, panchromatic film
• High-speed film with wide exposure latitude and good shadow detail
• Able to be pushed to ISO 800/1600/3200/6400 with corresponding changes in development time
Thank you to Stephen for making the time to talk to JCH about this fantastic new project. I know he has been working on this for a while now and I really hope everyone in the community can get behind this great addition to the marketplace.
Go and grab yourself some on the Kickstarter. I already have.