Film Swap!

As long as I can recall, I’ve wanted to try doing a “film swap” in which one person shoots a roll of film, then another shoots over top of the same roll.  A lot of people online do this via mailing film back and forth.  I, however, am pretty lazy about getting to the post office. 

Every summer my husband’s cousins on one side of the family – spread across Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan - get together for a long weekend at a location somewhere in the middle.  This year’s trip was planned for Munising: a small town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, just outside of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior.  Thinking back to past get-togethers, I remembered that our cousin Joseph Leadley had used film cameras.  And since my new local lab can process 35mm C-41, I thought, “this is the perfect opportunity to do a film swap!” 

I hate to admit it, being a native Northern Michigander, but this was my first time to Pictured Rocks.  We started bright and early with ten adults, two toddlers, and two dogs on a large rental pontoon boat.  Having been warned that the waves would only get choppier as the day progressed, we took off along the main stretch of the Pictured Rocks, just beyond the calmer South Bay.  Although still undeniably impressive; I was slightly disappointed that, at that time of morning, the rocks didn’t have the saturated orange glow you so famously see in promotions (as the sun was still coming up behind them).  I have often found that in photography, it’s best to go in without expectations, and let yourself be open to a vast array of subjects as they present themselves. 

Joe started out the roll of Fujifilm 200 on his Canon AE-1, using a 50mm lens.  He shot throughout the morning, and later in the afternoon we switched out the film on a beach.  It was very, very windy by then, and I used a newly purchased film extractor tool (approx. $25) to pull the tongue of the film back out, while crouching in the shade with sand blowing at me!  I loaded up my Yashica T4 Super (found in a free bin at work last summer) and photographed for the rest of the day, as well as on some waterfall hikes and other Lake Superior beaches.  You’ll notice that at some point in the afternoon, those of us in the boat decided to put on our life vests:  the waves got up to three feet tall and we were slightly freaking out on the way back.  I then decided that orange glowy rocks would not have been worth being that far out in the lake!

I hadn’t done a lot of research on film swaps beforehand.  If I had, I might not have been as surprised to discover – upon viewing the negatives - that our cameras load film in the opposite direction!  Therefore, our images were “upside down” from one another.  We also didn’t bother to note what sprocket we started on (our frames don’t line up), or try to keep track of subjects or horizontal/vertical orientation.  I’m sure a lot of people will find doing those things to be helpful to their vision.  I, however, am of the mindset that double exposure photography is all about following your intuition & embracing the element of chance. 

I am very happy with the way our images weave in and out of one another, changing orientation throughout, thereby abstracting the depicted scenes.  I enjoyed the process of deciding which images should be rotated in which direction during post-processing: some of these are orientated “as shot” by each of us.  There’s the added element of chance in that the lab technician had to decide where to crop the frames during scanning.  I can’t wait to try this experiment again: either with another friend, or perhaps alone by running film through a couple of different cameras! 

Film photographer, Katie Mollon, enjoys exploring experimental techniques in her work. Please check out her website for more at