As many of you will know, I do like quirky photographs! Among the styles I love is the Polaroid. My dad had one when I was young. Being keen on holding on to his cash, he resented having to pay Boots or Bonusprint to develop his films and so thought Polaroid was the answer. He soon realised the costs were similar, you, in effect, paid up front for the instant development of Polaroids in higher film costs and so once the novelty had worn off the camera rarely came out to play.
Ever since, I have loved the washed out images the Polaroid film produces. There are digital tweaks you can make to imitate the look, but nothing really compares to true Polaroid for that sixties/seventies feel. Like many, I was so disappointed when, in 2008, Polaroid announced they would no longer be making the film – again economics took priority over art. However, a small group of dedicated European Polaroid lovers put their faith in the medium and with great foresight bought the old Polaroid film making machinery that was being sold off. They had no idea how to make the film. No idea of the chemicals involved. Oh, and they had no money.
Thus started the ‘Impossible Project”. The name came from the fact that whet they were trying to achieve was deemed ‘impossible’ by everyone they asked but this just seemed to make them all the more determined to succeed. To raise money they started a website along the crowd-funding principle. They asked Polaroid lovers world-wide to commit to buy a certain amount of film if they could make it. Once they had enough pledges they called the money in, bought a load of chemicals and put on the rubber gloves. I am sure it would make a great movie, because, against all the odds they succeeded in making batch of film. (you can read the full story here). From there, the team have gone from strength to strength and employ 25 people, many of whom originally worked for Polaroid.
A few words about the film itself. They make a colour and a mono film. Both are, shall we say, very unpredictable. VERY unpredictable. But it is this unpredictability which makes them so good in my eyes. The film has to be shielded from light in the first few seconds after shooting and can take half an hour to develop (best done in one of the film boxes). In fact, it can continue to develop for the next 24 hours. Sometimes the chemicals don’t mix correctly. The exposure can be all over the place. Flare and other aberrations abound. I am currently using some of the early close to prototype film which they sell at a reduced price and so am experiencing extreme quirkiness. The new generation films they have released this year apparently show greater consistency.
I bought an old Polaroid camera from eBay and adore it. The film packs are expensive (think, about £1.50 an image once postage is factored in) but the packs are well made, quite complex and contain a battery to power the camera and flash, so there is a lot going on. You get eight shots per pack and it is best kept in the fridge (DO NOT freeze the film). The camera is totally retro and I feel like a seventies Dad walking about with it. I used it in Whitby earlier this week sand people were stopping and staring 🙂 It got a great reaction. The Impossible Project have plans on the drawing board to make a new Polaroid camera, so exciting times lie ahead. The project has been such a success that they are opening Polaroid shops in capitals around the world to service customers. I got my film, from Germany, via UPS in a couple of days.
Today I put a pack of the Silver Shade mono film in the camera and am blown away by the results. The tones are beautiful. I can’t wait to use the new generation of mono film they have released. I have one pack but am going to use up the old batch film first. new products in the pipeline will please large format film users as they are working on 10 x 8 and 4 x 5 versions of the film which was used by many large format camera users to test exposures and for quick client approval shots. The possibilities are endless.
I am keen to get out with the camera as soon as possible to continue experimenting. Ideas I have in mind are a trip on a train with just the Polaroid to see what it brings. Also, I would like to try some urban decay as well as ‘seaside’ photography. If you decide to give it a go, be warned, it is addictive and could be expensive but the results can be wonderful. Even the ‘spoiled’ frames can become happy accidents that in their own way are works of art. I enjoy the lack of precision and unpredictability of the Polaroid. I love the retro feel of the images and the tactile nature of holding a Polaroid in your hand to admire it. I already have some which I will frame for my walls. No doubt you will be seeing more of them from me in the near future.
If you fancy dabbling in film photography to see if it is for you, why not consider joining Jonathan Stead and myself on a film based workshop in September. We provide the camera (if you need one), a roll of film and show you how to develop the film cheaply and easily at home (without any need for a darkroom). You can get full details here — Go on, come and try some ‘real’ photography and enjoy the pleasures of analogue.