I started the Aerochorme Project in 2007 when it was clear that Kodak would stop making Kodak EIR 135 color infrared film. At that time, no one was interested at all in color infrared film. So much so that Kodak discontinued it. t was then that I discovered Aerochrome Infrared. It was not available to the public and only came in large bulk rolls. It is not actually the same film as the EIR, but I had the idea to cut it down for small and medium format to see if it it worked out. In the first 3 years of the project, I met with only opposition. Just about every photo forum banned me for even mentioning the project on their platforms. It seems that I was spamming by talking about it. Seriously, I thought that's what photo forums are for. Getting the word out and getting people interested was a long. painful and expensive process. I gave the first few hundred rolls away, convinced that color infrared photography could be revived from its glory days of the 1960's.
Back in 1967, Karl Ferris, who I dub "The Godfather of Color Infrared", made the seminal color infrared image for the debut release of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The 1970's brought Elliott Landy's infrared portraits of Bob Dylan, The Band, Johnny Lee Hooker, Van Morrison and more. Marcus Keef's brilliant infrared work for Vertigo Records produced some of the most iconic LP covers of the era. By the mid 1970's though, the psychedelic look was pretty much fading out and so was the use of color infrared film. Kodak continued to produce it in 135 format straight through to the millennium, but no one really noticed and it was consigned to hobbyists. It was definitely not trending. The retro of the 1990's really set everything up for re-introducing the color infrared look, but for some reason it never really caught on.
I am still the only one cutting and distributing the film in medium and large formats. From 2007 until now, I hand cut and rolled every 120 roll in existence. I have supplied to everyone from Mert and Marcus to Richard Mosse to John Doe. The work has allowed me to reach just about every corner of the globe. I've exhibited in some amazing places and met a some amazing people. After more than 10 years, the project is still gaining momentum.
My original goal for taking Infrared photos was to show the beauty and versatility of the film. It started with red trees, but led me deeper and deeper into more complex applications. Certainly it is much more than just red trees. In fact, the soft curve of the film can first really be realized when shooting without any green foliage at all in the scene. This is where it really starts to get interesting. It turns out that you can compose your color palette for a given scene by your selection of materials. It is not so much the colors you select as it is the materials. I found that my knowledge of textiles and materials has helped me to paint a composition with relative accuracy. One example might be that black cotton will turn deep red in infrared, but black leather stays black. You can further experiment by using foliage to affect your scene. If your subject is wearing a red hat and standing under a tree, the hat may be rendered as orange. That same subject can be standing on a beach devoid of vegetation and the hat may render as yellow. So you see the potential here. You can take a plant and put it near your subject and even if it is out of frame, it will influence the color palette. Change the position of the plant and you change somewhat the color composition of your shot again. And that's really only the beginning.
I sadly acknowledge that most people think this work is a product of computer enhancement. I take pride in the fact that all the work is done inside an analog camera and no computers or digital devices are used to alter the images. That is the challenge of all analog photographers I would hope. Get it right while it's in the camera. The photos on this site are nearly 1:1 with the original slides where the scanning process is the only digital interference in the workflow.
Just a word about infrared light.
Aerochrome film captures a broad band of the light spectrum which includes ultraviolet light, visible light and infrared light. It is not just the infrared light that is being recorded. But since infrared light is invisible to the eye, we never know really how much of it there is in a given situation. It is as ever-changing as visible light, so running after it is just chasing your tail. A better approach is to expose the film for the visible light keeping in mind that there is this hidden factor. There are do's and dont's that can take some of the guess work out of it. With a little experience and/or research and logic, you can narrow things down quite a bit. If you are standing on green grass, under a tree and surrounded by bushes, you certainly will have an excess amount of IR bouncing around and your work will most likely come out monochrome and blown out. Remember that one goal here is to achieve color discrimination and have several colors in the palette. That means asking yourself what you want out of the composition and then understanding whether or not the elements in the shot will give you that outcome. Once you get a handle on it, it's painting with materials and invisible light.
Dean Bennici 2019