Blog post

Iron Curtain Caffenol

Shooting a roll of film for the #CrappyCommieCameraParty


Having took up the the latest shitty challenge, I was required to shoot with a ‘crappy’ camera that was made in a current or former communist country. Here’s how I got on.


The equipment was not an issue for me as I already had a draw full of old cameras from the former USSR and GDR, the Praktica TL5B was to be the body I would use as it seemed the most reliable compared to a Zorki 4 with a dodgy shutter curtain, a Zenit 122 with uncertain electrical contacts and a Praktica BC1 with a battery compartment that just didn’t want to stay closed.

Which lens though, I only had one wide-ish lens which would have been preferable, a MIR 1 at 37mm, however I was to be shooting on sunny days and from recent experience I knew that lens was a bit of a flare monster in those conditions. A 50mm it was to be then, and stealing the Zenitar-M 50mm f1.7 off my Zenit 122 that was to be the order of the day.

That was it then I was ready to go, but, but, wait, I wanted to take it a step or two further comrade. In choosing a film could I use a communist or former communist country film ? Well, I had a 100ft roll of Orwo UN54, made in Wolfen, Germany, which was formerly in the GDR, there’s no coincidence that Lomography call their version of the film Potsdam, another former GDR city, and so I had the film chosen.


Deciding what to shoot required a little thought to tie it in to the communist theme. Living on Merseyside, a place with a long history of electing Labour members of parliament and local governments, a city long associated with socialism. Surely I could find appropriate places to shoot, especially with the cities association with the Labour Militants (Trotskyist) of the 1980’s not to mention it being a trade union stronghold with various strikes down on the docks in the 1970’s and 1990’s. That then gave me a rough idea of what I would shoot for this Shitty Challenge.

So I had a relevant camera, lens, film and subject, could I make it even more appropriate to the challenge ? I still had to develop the film, how could I bend that process to the communist will ? Well I had been using a fair bit of caffenol of late, could I make that a communist process, just maybe. I tried to buy instant coffee originating from former Iron Curtain countries, yes I could buy it, but was it coffee ? No not really, it was actually a drink mix containing creamer, sugar and other ingredients apart from coffee. The only thing I could find was coffee beans from the Polish coffee company Mokate. Looking into whether I could make caffenol from beans, it’s largely frowned upon, with instant being preferred due to the high caffeic acid content, the active ingredient required for caffenol. Thinking about it, I decided if I could find coffee containing Robusta beans which have a higher caffeic acid content, and make the coffee of sufficient strength and volume, it might just work. I tried it using Mokate Classico beans (robusta/arabica mix), and indeed it kind of worked first go, and with a little refinement I was then pretty happy with the method you can see below. I wouldn’t recommend this method over instant coffee, as it ends up expensive due to the amount of beans required, but as an interesting project, it was well worth the effort.


Well, here they are then, the photos as shot, on your Marx, get set, go !

All galleries may be clicked to view full size.


Well there we are, all done, I hope you enjoyed the results and the documenting of the process.

Power to the people and keep the red flag flying high !

© Copyright owner Steve Starr. First publication 28th July 2021.