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St. Ansel’s Fire

Last night after everyone was in bed I turned off all the lights in the house and locked myself in the bathroom where I thought could be the darkest place in the house to load some film in preparation for developing. I brought my Patterson tank that can process two rolls of 35mm. The film was a roll of Kodak 800 from a Fun Saver disposable camera that I had given to my son so he could take his own photos of his birthday party last August and a roll of Kodak 200 mystery film I assume came out of some camera I acquired.

I started with the old mystery film and I was having a hell of a time loading it. It was super curly and wouldn’t relax. I finally got it started properly after realizing the reels worked much better when squeezing them together to maintain some pressure on the film. They are adjustable which could be the reasoning for that difficulty. Now usually by the time you finish loading the roll you have to cut it off of the inner spool. Earlier in the day I watched someone else on YouTube just pull it right off the spool. I thought that might save me a second or two of fumbling around with the scissors and minimize the risk of cutting a frame. I proceed to pull the taped end of the spool and all of a sudden I see a thin line of light appear in the separation between the tape and the plastic spool. I thought my eyes were messing with me, a dark room can screw with your senses. I pulled it again and the light appeared once more. Now after all the abuse the film took trying to load it I now was worried about this weird light fogging the film or worse. I then loaded the roll of 800 as well which was much easier but I cut the spool off this time.

I went online to the Facebook group “The Darkroom” and posted asking others if they have seen this before. Before long quite a few people spoke up and said they have seen this often and it’s nothing to really be worried about. No one had experienced this “event” damaging their film in any noticeable way. Some people just enjoy it. A few people had never heard of it as well since they use a changing bag and can not physically see whats happening when loading the film.

Turns out this phenomenon is called Triboluminescence. Wikipedias definition is..

Triboluminescence is an optical phenomenon in which light is generated through the breaking of chemical bonds in a material when it is pulled apart, ripped, scratched, crushed, or rubbed (see tribology). The phenomenon is not fully understood, but appears to be caused by the separation and reunification of electrical charges. The term comes from the Greek τρίβειν (“to rub”; see tribology) and the Latin lumen (light). Triboluminescence can be observed when breaking sugar crystals and peeling adhesive tapes.

Triboluminescence is often used as a synonym for fractoluminescence (a term sometimes used when referring only to light emitted from fractured crystals). Triboluminescence differs from piezoluminescence in that a piezoluminescent material emits light when it is deformed, as opposed to broken. These are examples of mechanoluminescence, which is luminescence resulting from any mechanical action on a solid.

This project sure is teaching me a thing or two! According to the Wikipedia page if you pull scotch tape off inside a vacuum it actually creates x-rays. Weird huh?

St Ansel’s Fire. Like St Elmo’s fire but happens in the darkroom rather than Sesame Street… – Trevor Sampson

I thought that was pretty great.

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