Chuck Miller’s Aerochrome Photos Make the World Look Alien

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All images by Chuck Miller. Used with permission.

Chuck Miller is a writer and photographer from Albany, N.Y. that’s been experimenting with film and digital photography for a long time. Some of his award-winning pictures involve cramming two rolls of 35mm film into a medium-format camera and exposing them simultaneously; modifying a camera to recreate the old horse racing “photo finish” exposures; and trying to resurrect Kodachrome color film by shooting pictures with color filters and composing the images from black-and-white sections.

However, he’s also very well versed in the use of Kodak Aerochrome–an infrared film first developed for military recon that essentially took greens in a scene and turned them purple. Other photographers likes Daniel Zvereff have done a great job with the film. Indeed, it was beautiful for artistic reasons until its discontinuation. But Chuck shot some incredible photos with the film, and we had the chance to talk to him about the experience.

 

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.

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Chuck: I started with a Nikon CoolPix 800 way back in 1999. I was working on a book at the time, and I found it was easier to purchase my own camera than to hire someone to take pictures for me. Eventually I taught myself the basics of photography, and I started experimenting with both digital and film photography – I joke that the things I do with vintage film cameras essentially breaks their warranties. After a while, I would see what other people have tried with experimentation, and then I would try something different. For example, while some people repurpose old 126 Instamatic cartridges to get sprocket hole photography with 35mm film, I go in the opposite route by breaking open the cartridges and shooting the old film in modern cameras. It’s tricky, but sometimes it works.

Phoblographer: What made you want to play with Kodak Aerochrome?

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Chuck: I truly appreciated the “false color” aspect of the film; the fact that anything organic would have a color shift to an almost dreamlike hue. Green leaves turn red, blue water turns black, the clouds in the sky turn into high contrast. One of the best things about working with Aerochrome is that you get this otherworldly look to your pictures – it’s like an alternative view for infrared film. I was gifted a Minolta x370s camera, which had a half-shot roll of Kodak HIE black-and-white infrared film in it. Once I acquired some more HIE film, there was a package of Kodak EIR color slide infrared film among the boxes of HIE. Kodak EIR is what is currently being sold as Infrachrome (35mm format) and Aerochrome (120 format). So I use the Minolta for the 35mm Infrachrome, since that camera is mostly mechanical; and for 120, I’ve shot that film with a Rolleiflex Automat MX and with a Kodak Medalist II.

Phoblographer: To you, what are some of the best ways to go about using it?

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Chuck: I’ve gone into the woods and shot with it; anything that’s organic will change color. I’ve shot statues with trees in the background and it’s almost like the statue is perched in front of a red, sinister forest. Water reflects well on sunny days. I haven’t yet shot humans with it, but I did get a gaggle of geese along a lake. They didn’t mind being photographed. At least I don’t think they minded.

Phoblographer: How do you think a photographer can use it to its highest creative advantage, granted that it’s dead now.

Chuck: Obviously lomographers will want to experiment with the film – cross-processing and the like. I’ve found that shooting the film on a sunny day at f/16 at 1:125 with a yellow or orange filter does wonders. You get fantastic color separation and you limit your dead shots. And at $35/roll for 35mm film and nearly $80/roll for 120 film, you definitely want to choose your shots wisely. Wasted shots equal wasted money.

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