A great contact of mine in Spain recently alerted me to a truly unique find at an old photo shop in his area. Two cans of an old film called “VALCA Pelicula-Cine Grano Fino Positiva” I’ve tested it and found that it has survived the years, and can still be used in traditional B&W photography. This prompted me to do some very long and obsessive research on this little-known film company. So, before making some of this unique film available in the Labeauratoire shop, I wanted to share the intriguing results from my exhaustive quest. At a time when the re-birth of the Italian “Ferrania” film factory is in on everyone’s mind, it’s a bit depressing to read about one that didn’t make it, and to think about “what could have been…”
Please check out this magnificent Urbex-style photography of the abandoned Valca factory by Alfonso Batalla.
The Valca brand has a fairly long reputation in Spain, but most of us outside the Iberian Peninsula have never heard of it. It seems Valca Film was much-loved from what I can gather in the numerous archived Spanish reports about the factory’s unfortunate demise in 1993.
The name “Valca” is a tribute to the area where the factory came to be built, by combining letters from the Valle de Mena (Mena Valley) and the Rio Cadagua (Cadagua River) which runs through it. Four Basque families, (Basterra, Delclaux, Oriol and Torrontegui) took their knowledge from the chemical industry in Bilbao in the 1940s, and searched for a location to build a film factory. Production methods at the time required a steady source of clean water, who’s temperature would remain basically constant all year-round. The town of Sopeñano and the banks of the Cadagua River fit the bill perfectly, and the workers of the area certainly welcomed the jobs.
During the mid-century decades, they grew in production of black & white negative film and x-ray materials, providing Spanish photographers with an affordable option to imported films. The company achieved a modicum of success and, at times, employed as many as 270 people in the 40,000 square-meter facility. By the 1990s, their x-ray films were being exported all over Europe and even to hospitals in the USA, exporting accounted for 65% of their production.
Surprisingly, this is one film company who can’t blame their closure on the digital death-knell. According to some accounts, Valca’s ultimate demise was due entirely to the shareholders and mismanagement of their bankruptcy and reorganization which started in 1991. Re-structuring can be a good thing for some companies, as we have seen with Ilford, AGFA, and (as yet to be proven,) Kodak. But it seems that the law firms and government agencies involved in this shuffle were not terribly interested in seeing Valca re-emerge to compete in the international market. There have even been rumors that government negativity toward their Basque heritage may have played a part in the downfall. Regardless, by January 1992 Valca’s bankruptcy entailed liabilities of 2,500 million pesetas (or about 15 million Euros) due to more than 600 creditors.
No matter what their intricate, financial problems were, it seems that “lack of demand” was not an issue, and their orders were as strong as ever when they were finally forced closed their doors in 1993, a good ten years before digital SLR cameras became affordable. While this was terrible news for fans of photographic film, it was much worse for the local community. After four decades, Valca had not only built a company, they had formed an extended working family in the Mena Valley and as the scores of employees walked out of the factory gates for the last time, the unemployment rate in the valley rose from 8% to 30%.
According to a 1993 Spanish newspaper report by Sara García Calle in El País:On Friday, July 2 (1993,) as Inmaculada Arnaiz, 43, was collecting her belongings after 19 years at her administrative position at Valca, the FAX machine was busy spitting out a new order for Valca x-ray film from a medical association in Switzerland. (paraphrased from the Spanish text.)
After an extensive search, I’ve finally pinpointed the location and you can now check-out this Google Street View Map where you can still clearly see the “VALCA” logos on the bottom of the rusted entry gates just steps from the emerald waters of the Cadagua river.
It’s not easy to find information on this film, but here are some of the emulsions I have seen in my search around the interwebs.
Many of the later packaging elements are very similar to Ilford branding, and I have heard there was also an Ilford factory in Spain so there may be some connection there.Valca Sheet Film Autographica – Panchromatica Antihalo Valca Sheet Film Retrato V Orthochromatic Valca Sheet Film Retrato VV Panchromatic Valca Sheet Film Retrato ES Panchromatic Valca Diapositiva Dura Valca Cine-Film Fine Grain Positive Valca HH 27 – ASA 400 Valca HH 29 – ASA 400 (sheet film, 35mm, 120) Valca F 22 – ASA 125 (sheet film 9×12 cm, 35mm, 120, 620 & 126) Valcolor 100 – (35mm & 126) Valcolor II – (35mm, 126, 120, 110)
They also made photographic paper:Valca B.N. -11 Broval Valca B.N. -112 Broval Valca B.N. -118 Broval Valca Broval RC 111 Valca Valex Contact Paper Valca Vival Rapido Paper
Here’s a sneek-preview of the photographic results from this rare film, and the labels I’ve made for the rolls, which are available in our Labeauratoire Shop.
While it is technically called a “fine grain positive cine-film,” it is really just a negative film designed for making positives from original movie negatives. So it gives you regular negatives when developed in B&W film developer. Of course it has gained a bit of base fog from the age and some grain as well. These examples were developed in our own Labeautoire’s Caffenol Concoction for about 15 minutes at 20°c. They were shot with my Robot Royal 24×24 camera which gives square images on 35mm film.
Below are a few links which I found particularly useful and interesting while compiling this article. Of course all these events happened more than 20 years ago, and are mostly documented in a language in which I am not fluent, so virtually everything I’ve written is paraphrased from loosely-translated Spanish reports, and I must credit the original journalists and thank them for their efforts.
“Valca: dos décadas de película… velada.” by J.C.R. – May 7, 2013 – Article in El Correo del Burgos
“El valle de Valca.” by Sara García Calle – July 7, 1993 – article in El País
“La triste historia de Valca, una historia española que terminó mal.” – 7/7/2013 – from EFE Futuro,with great historic video from the blog of Txema Ruiz.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this exhaustive report. Feel free to look-up our Valca Film page in our Labeauratoire Online Film Shop if you’d like to try some of this rare film, as WordPress is not the place for commerce links.
Adios! And Happy Shooting!
Lance Aram Rothstein 10/2014