Film photography and the ethics of using gelatin

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Revenant

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This is a topic that comes up seemingly only in the depths of the online photography community. There are surprisingly few resources on the subject that I can find, even though I'm very interested in the topic as someone who identifies as vegetarian (not vegan). I have read the article on the ADOX website (very informative but limited) and the Ilford one, plus articles that rehash that information as well as personal stories of the "I gave up film" and "I struggle with my conscience" varieties.

One of the most interesting resources is this video, which I found via this page.



The person making the emulsion in the video seems to imply that PVA emulsion is viable with appropriate R&D. The comments section under the video includes the suggestion that as some gelatin is made from human hair this could be used instead. Relatedly, this article about human-derived gelatin says the following:
Scientists are developing a new approach for producing human-derived gelatin in large enough quantities to be a commercially viable replacement for the animal-based gelatins used in all kinds of gelatin-like desserts, candies, and other foodstuffs as well as pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

I am not prepared to boycott film but I see the use of gelatin as problematic and I would like to see progress within the industry on this matter. So I would appreciate any detailed resources people could recommend, or any information they have on the subject themselves. I don't have the knowledge or intellectual skills for understanding the technicalities of film manufacture but I do my best to learn about these things.
 
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A modest proposal, indeed. Surely humanity is able to program bacteria to synthesize gelatin by now, even if not economically feasible.

Isinglass isn't vegetarian but as Kurt Cobain once sang 'It's okay to eat fish 'cause they don't have any feelings'.
 

awty

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Most inject photo paper has gelatin.
Safer to switch to drawing.....but don't use parchment and some coloured textures have animal by products.
You could go back to wetplate, that's what was used before gelatin.
Gelatin is more environmentally friendly than the use of petrochemicals.

I like animals, they taste good.
 
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Ivo Stunga

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I like animals too - to watch, to pet and to eat.

Everything humans do consume resources: film doesn't grow on trees, neither do cars, phones and homes. Same goes for animals - we all live in a greenhouse called Earth. We all live off of each other, we consume each other and that's how the reality works. Humans aren't that far removed from nature, you know.

I don't get this, dropping film because of a seemingly "unethical" byproduct that would go to other causes or in trash bin...
I, for example, would call killing just for food unethical - in a conceptual situation where the rest of the animal carcass/fur/skin isn't put to good use - like gelatin for film.
 
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chuckroast

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This is a topic that comes up seemingly only in the depths of the online photography community. There are surprisingly few resources on the subject that I can find, even though I'm very interested in the topic as someone who identifies as vegetarian (not vegan). I have read the article on the ADOX website (very informative but limited) and the Ilford one, plus articles that rehash that information as well as personal stories of the "I gave up film" and "I struggle with my conscience" varieties.

One of the most interesting resources is this video, which I found via this page.



The person making the emulsion in the video seems to imply that PVA emulsion is viable with appropriate R&D. The comments section under the video includes the suggestion that as some gelatin is made from human hair this could be used instead. Relatedly, this article about human-derived gelatin says the following:


I am not prepared to boycott film but I see the use of gelatin as problematic and I would like to see progress within the industry on this matter. So I would appreciate any detailed resources people could recommend, or any information they have on the subject themselves. I don't have the knowledge or intellectual skills for understanding the technicalities of film manufacture but I do my best to learn about these things.


Film is hard to make. And it's really hard to make well. Burdening that process with demands of the various veg special interests would be the death knell of a technology that is just holding on as it is.

I profoundly and utterly reject that using gelatin is problematic, but I also respect your privilege to think otherwise. Just be prepared for this to get no useful traction.
 

chuckroast

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I like animals too - to watch, to pet and to eat.

Everything humans do consume resources: film doesn't grow on trees, neither do cars, phones and homes. Same goes for animals - we all live in a greenhouse called Earth. We all live off of each other, we consume each other and that's how the reality works. Humans aren't that far removed from nature, you know.

I don't get this, dropping film because of a seemingly "unethical" byproduct that would go to other causes or in trash bin...
I, for example, would call killing just for food unethical - in a conceptual situation where the rest of the animal carcass/fur/skin isn't put to good use - like gelatin for film.

You cannot change the mind of true believers and attempting to debate this just leads to typically unkind and argumentative outcomes. Accept that some small percentage of the population has bought into this ideology, and proceed to cook your own steaks.

Incidentally, one of my very good friends is a principled vegan. He doesn't object to killing an animal to eat it, he objects to the way that factory slaughterhouses do it. (For that matter, so do I.) So, he told me I am welcome to come to his land and shoot a deer for food if I am so inclined. He knows that animal will either be entirely safe - because I missed - or it will die more-or-less instantly with almost no pain. That's the kind of reasonable conversation that it often missing when this kind of stuff comes up.
 

MattKing

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So, he told me I am welcome to come to his land and shoot a deer for food if I am so inclined.

The other residents of our 4 storey condominium apartment complex probably don't want us to extend that sort of invitation :smile:
Particularly the ones with small dogs.
 

Philippe-Georges

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There is Halal gelatine which is used in yoghurt, soft sweets, industrial ice cream and manny other food stuff...
And, as I was told, Eastman made Kosjer gelatine (which they still do) and used it for emulsion making.
 

koraks

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Incidentally, one of my very good friends is a principled vegan. He doesn't object to killing an animal to eat it, he objects to the way that factory slaughterhouses do it.

I can relate. I'm not vegan though - there's only so much hardship I'm willing to wish upon myself. I'm a pescatarian and try to limit my fish consumption to maybe one or two portions a week. Everyone gets to decide where they draw the line, and IMO, that's fine.

Everything humans do consume resources: film doesn't grow on trees, neither do cars, phones and homes. Same goes for animals - we all live in a greenhouse called Earth. We all live off of each other, we consume each other and that's how the reality works.

And others may die so that we may live. Or, even more succinct: no pain, no gain. Tough cookie.

Most inject photo paper has gelatin.

I don't think so; please provide a source for this.

Most inkjet paper is RC-coated paper with a water-absorbent top-coat. On some early inkjet papers, this top-coat may have been gelatin or some other colloid, but I really doubt it is today. In fact, I'm pretty sure that 99.95% of the inkjet papers out there entirely gelatin-free. There's just no point in putting it in there.

Your suggestion of shooting wet plate is a good one to arrive at a 'vegan' analog photographic process. Shoot wet plate negatives, then print on any of the plethora of gelatin-free 'alternative' processes.

Digital is pretty much vegan-proof across the board.

There is Halal gelatine which is used in yoghurt, soft sweets, industrial ice cream and manny other food stuff...
And, as I was told, Eastman made Kosjer gelatine (which they still do) and used it for emulsion making.

Both Halal and Kosher gelatins are of course still animal-derived gelatins. Photo-grade (inert) gelatin can be either bovine or porcine in origin. The latter will of course never be either Halal or Kosher. While Halal and Kosher gelatins can be part of a solution for religiously motivated buyers, they evidently don't help those who choose a strictly vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.

Surely humanity is able to program bacteria to synthesize gelatin by now, even if not economically feasible.

The latter is the issue. Fuji has actually created a vegan substitute for gelatin in photographic color paper (hence, it will work in film as well). It is cost-prohibitive to use in photo paper; instead, they use it in applications aimed at the medical/pharmaceutical sector. It's actively being produced, but in low quantities. Scaling up would not help sufficiently in bringing costs down, so they continue to use real gelatin for their paper (and film, I suppose, but I have no contacts with that part of the company).

The person making the emulsion in the video seems to imply that PVA emulsion is viable with appropriate R&D.

I'm sure if the solution would be this easy, parties like Fuji and Kodak would have jumped on it decades ago.
Gelatin has a couple of properties that are pretty unique out there in the world of materials, especially in a product that's easily available in copious amounts as essentially a waste stream of a humongous industry. It dissolves in hot water, but can be hardened so it no longer does this - and not only that, but the degree of hardening can be controlled. It swells in water and becomes very easily permeable to even fairly large molecules, and then dries again into a resilient and tough layer. This process can be repeated many times without any damage to the matrix. Large particles it can trap when the gelatin goes from a dissolved state to a solid state, so that these particles become immobile. There's not a whole lot of stuff out there that does these things - let alone does them so well, and at such low costs.
 

koraks

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@Sean that's a step in the right direction, but note that it takes further processing to make gelatin out of collagen. The collagen production of Geltor is still at a small/lab/demo scale. I don't think they've done an actual gelatin yet. I also don't know how feasible it is to form a photographic gelatin from collagen. It sounds promising, but gelatin chemistry is kind of complex; gelatin is also a highly variable/heterogeneous product, which doesn't help.
 

Ivo Stunga

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You cannot change the mind of true believers and attempting to debate this just leads to typically unkind and argumentative outcomes. Accept that some small percentage of the population has bought into this ideology, and proceed to cook your own steaks.
Fanaticism is a poison, clouding minds indeed. I have similar views on killing an animal - but hey, we're talking a food industry (ugly, agreed) byproduct - trash/side income essentially from the food industry perspective, generating carcases en masse.

I, however, tend to also view this as a first-world kind of a problem - when your life is set and secured, you've left some energy to engage in ideological non-issues.
I accept and even respect such a position, even wish some luck in fighting well known meat industry bullshit, but it has its limits.
The same byproducts make various other products and animal foods...

Kosher or not - that's just adding religion to this soup of fanaticism - can do without that : D
 
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Don_ih

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Gelatin is produced from what is considered the waste of the carcass. The primary reason for breeding and killing the animal is to produce meat for sale. It's a bit of a stretch to say that it's an ethical problem to use gelatin-based emulsions because the animal was not bred and killed specifically for it. It's incidental. It can be a matter of personal preference but there's not much argument to be made that the companies should stop using it.

So , one can say "I won't use film made from animals" but to demand it stop being made for that reason is unjustified.
 
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Dustin McAmera

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I think if the photographic industry were ever going to make vegetarian film, it would have been when they were selling a lot of film. As has been said, gelatin is a by-product so it's probably cheap, and they have been using it for a long time so they understand it.

Agar is promising because it's already available as a powder for making microbiological media. You make it as a hot liquid, which sets into a gel when you pour it on glass plates; just like pouring photographic plates, only a bit hotter. There is this thread about agar.

 
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BrianShaw

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At least film is lactose-free and gluten-free. Two less problems to fret about.
 

Carnie Bob

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This is a topic that comes up seemingly only in the depths of the online photography community. There are surprisingly few resources on the subject that I can find, even though I'm very interested in the topic as someone who identifies as vegetarian (not vegan). I have read the article on the ADOX website (very informative but limited) and the Ilford one, plus articles that rehash that information as well as personal stories of the "I gave up film" and "I struggle with my conscience" varieties.

One of the most interesting resources is this video, which I found via this page.



The person making the emulsion in the video seems to imply that PVA emulsion is viable with appropriate R&D. The comments section under the video includes the suggestion that as some gelatin is made from human hair this could be used instead. Relatedly, this article about human-derived gelatin says the following:


I am not prepared to boycott film but I see the use of gelatin as problematic and I would like to see progress within the industry on this matter. So I would appreciate any detailed resources people could recommend, or any information they have on the subject themselves. I don't have the knowledge or intellectual skills for understanding the technicalities of film manufacture but I do my best to learn about these things.


I had a client walk in to make prints but insisted no gelatin in the print, My choices were inkjet but we ended up with gum bichromate over palladium which is tree sap.
 
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koraks

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Removed some ideological posts that attempt to discuss personal choices. We're not going to go there.

Last chance before this thread is locked and filed away.
 

chuckroast

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Fanaticism is a poison, clouding minds indeed. I have similar views on killing an animal - but hey, we're

I agree, and it has led to a lot of bad outcomes over history from deadly to just silly. But debating people who have their minds made up is a fool's errand and just causes hard feelings.

I ran into this when working for a bit in the nuclear energy sector. No amount of reason, facts, or evidence would move the "no nukes" crowd. That's why we're still spewing coal exhaust into the air 80 years after nuclear power was perfected.

I, however, tend to also view this as a first-world kind of a problem - when your life is set and secured, you've left some energy to engage in ideological non-issues.

Absolutely right. There are no greater cause addicts than the children of infinite plenty. I am always amused by the "anti capitalists" who wear Nike and use Apple phones (looking at you all you RATM fans) or "no oil" bunch whose entire existence is based on petrochemicals and their byproducs.

I accept and even respect such a position, even wish some luck in fighting well known meat industry bullshit, but it has its limits.
The same byproducts make various other products and animal foods...

The problem is that the alternatives may be worse. I can afford grass fed and humanely slaughtered beef - and do. But all the pressure to buy "organic" across the board misses the incredible environmental impact of growing things this way. Without being able to get rid of pests, a lot more clear cutting has to be done to keep them at bay from the growing fields.

Kosher or not - that's just adding religion to this soup of fanaticism - can do without that : D
 
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