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London Photographer Claims Airport Security Ruined Her Vintage Film Rolls

London Photographer Claims Airport Security Ruined Her Vintage Film Rolls

A photographer has detailed how an experience with security staff at London’s Heathrow Airport led to her rare vintage film being damaged.

Ruth Iorio, who was heading to Los Angeles for work, accuses staff of putting her unused photography equipment and rolls through an X-ray scanner despite her pleas not to. In doing so, she says they have ruined the contrast, making the film unusable. She had been intending to use it as part of a photo series featuring her three-year-old child.

The film is supposed to be kept away from light and refrigerated, but Iorio claims she was waiting more than half an hour while staff at Terminal 3 took the film from its X-ray proof protective bag and processed it through the scanner, as opposed to checking it by hand. Staff allegedly insisted the film would be unaffected by the rays, regardless of Iorio claiming otherwise.

Now, she claims the rolls are useless to her photo series due to the incorrect color balance. A spokeswoman for Heathrow said:

Heathrow’s top priority is always the safety and security of our passengers and colleagues. Whilst we endeavour to provide alternative screening for sensitive professional film, protecting the security of our airport means it is not always possible. We regret that Ms. Iorio’s professional film was subject to X-ray screening in this instance, but we cannot compromise on keeping the skies above Britain safe.

[via Evening Standard]

Jack Alexander's picture

A 28-year-old self-taught photographer, Jack Alexander specialises in intimate portraits with musicians, actors, and models.

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I was under the impression that vintage film inherently has reduced contrast and an altered color balance

Whilst it is unfortunate and a real pisser it is however understood that this is serious times we live in and we all get our gear at times subjected to more stringent security process in the name of National security. Airport staff could not care less how or why to our needs, but such has become life.

It did get fogged (it fogs, not fades) in X-rays before. But the X-ray devices are much stronger now. It was always a hassle to get a hand inspection of film, even back when everyone used film and everyone was at least somewhat aware that even their own cameras had sensitivities, and so they could be convinced to do a hand inspection (there were still some requirements, such as the film being in its own container in many cases).

But these days, the people doing the inspections have zero personal experience with film, the machines are much stronger. They "know" that every camera they've ever seen can be safely exposed to X-rays, so down in the nuggins of their little hearts, they don't really believe your camera can't either.

Regulations say you don't have to worry about airport scanners for film under ISO 800. They'll hand-inspect your film if you request it, however.

A lot of times they won't, and when you tell them it's only safe till iso 800 and that you carry more sensitive film they don't understand and don't care.

I regularly shoot ilford 3200, and had it scanned more than once.. last time in Glasgow, where i asked to talk to a supervisor and got menaced by the woman handling my stuff of opening the canisters and boxes of large format film and exposing it to the light if i continued asking for hand check.
When i got mad because of the obvious arrogance and petty treatment a second security agent menaced again, this time with grounding me and preventing me from flying, while my film went into the machine.

They serve you the "it's for your security" line even when they know they can do the swabs to check if there are explosives or drugs, but it makes their job easier to just run it through the scanner.

The sad thing is that they can cause so much hassle if they retain you enough time to lose your flight that they don't even care to try and understand your point.
I wrote a complaint letter, left phone and email.. no response so far.

I was lucky and none of my film was fogged. I always make efforts to keep everything in transparent canisters and transparent ziplock bags in all my flights to help with the hand inspections and this trip that was the only time it got chucked in the scanner.

Well she obviously wants to make profit out of it or just get attention. I put old film through 6 xray scanners on one trip and the images are just fine.

While I sympathize with her experience, having looked at her website, it's difficult to see how this event would have any discernible impact on her photography. :-/

For someone who has spent half of his life in a darkroom, I don't know of any good reason why people still shoot film unless you get enjoyment out of the laborious laboratory process. Shoot digital!

IMO the most problematic phase is scanning :P And we still don't have digital Xpan, or real medium format sensors ;)

Been there, done that. Processing film is just a pain in the okole. Tedious and exacting at the same time. Never liked developing film, either black and white or color (which was even more tedious and exacting).

Printing, however, could be very therapeutic. Black and white printing, that is.

But the modern process is simply to scan the negatives and then go digital, which IMO cuts out the only truly enjoyable part of the film experience. If one is just going to scan the negatives--shoot digital.

Shooting digital is boring. I enjoy the developing process, tolerate scanning, and much prefer having actual negatives in my hand... So you're pretty much right I guess.

We enjoy the look, the feel, the results..
For me film isn't better or worse.. in my case i prefer it, i prefer grain structure to digital noise.. i like that film slashes my post processing time, and when i don't feel like processing it i send it to a lab, Voila problem solved.

I'll se how my two rolls will come out after x-ray - remembered to pass one exposed roll, but forgot about those still inside cameras in my backpack :P

Since they call it vintage film I'm going to guess it's expired film (although they still do make portra 400). Expired film is generally lower contrast, and the more expired the more low contrast it can be. I've sent hundreds of rolls of film through x-ray machines over the years and never had a prob. Also shooting underwater can introduce all kinds of issues, contrast, color, etc....

Experiences such as this are one good reason that I take my digital cameras when air traveling and confine my film photography to road travel. The alternative is indeed to purchase and process your film at your travel destination and that can be possible in many cases and I may yet do it. But as one who prefers to develop my own film, the appeal of that is limited. Still, I have a lot of sympathy Ms. Iorio. A disheartening experience.

I doubt that the effect that this woman describes is due to the X-rays. I still shoot film and travel with it all the time. Just came back from a trip and had my film go through X-ray machines at 5 airports. I never ask for hand inspection and it always goes through the carry-on luggage scanner. Never had an issue, 100 - 400 ISO, 35mm or 120 film. Check the various film photography forums (APUG/Photrio) and you'll read the same experience from many other users. Putting in a lead bag is actually not a good idea as the operator will increase the X-ray strength to see through the lead foil. Just put it in a transparent plastic bag and keep it separate from your metal photo equipment.

Still, when you carry 3200 film, or 800 film, it's nice to get a hand inspection.. you can relax and not be wondering if the 6th xray machine will be the one to fog it.

From the included image the film rebates look clear, so I would guess that the film wasn't fogged but that it was under processed. Plus the "Kodak Portra 400" name on the film is not fully black (when the image is viwed in negative) which it should be for correctly processed film.

If the film was fogged then the rebates would show it. My guess is a film processing error.


I'm calling BS on this. If the film was actually damaged by the x-rays, you would see it in the film base as increased base + fog. And I don't understand how the color balance is off unless the film was not properly developed and the orange mask that is part of the film is either not there or not the right color and that indicates a bleach failure. Hard to tell in a black and white shot.

That could be fixed by using a piece of medium format color negative leader that was processed correctly in with the negatives when prints are made.

"Vintage". Maybe the hipster got what's coming for her.

Really strange that she wants to call attention on herself considering some of the photos of her son should not be up on social media

I used to carry my reversal medium format rolls in lead lined bags. The airport security just 'pumped up the volume' of the X-ray device so they could actually see the rolls in the bag. Never had any incorrect color balance though.