Since I wrote about The Impossible Project’s resurrection of 8″ x 10″ instant film a few days ago, I’ve been musing on my own experiences with Polaroid film. Initially, I used it to assess exposure and composition in studio environments as most professional photographers did in the pre-digital age.
Sometimes the memory of the amount of 4 x 5 film used for this purpose makes me cringe … but the client was charged for every sheet so it didn’t hurt too much. In fact the sheer volume of shots had a lot to do with an art director “just wanting to see the effect …”. This was all practical stuff and had nothing to do with using Polaroid as an artistic medium in itself. I tend to be a slow learner and it wasn’t until Polaroid Australia lent me an SX-70 to test that I started to investigate Polaroid’s artistic potential, although I’d been using Polaroid’s instant 35mm film for quite a long time, for my own images. Many other photographers had already been using Polaroid print film for years for at images, and indeed I’d acquired a few books featuring Polaroid photography that I admired. These included a monograph with tipped in monochrome photography from Douglas Holleley, a volume of raunchy nudes from Mollini, Neil Slavin’s giant 20″ x 24″ Polaroid film exploration of Britian, and several of Polaroid Collection books.
As a result I spent a bit of time exploring the potential of both SX70 and 4″ x 5″ sheet film, as well as Type 55 Pos/Neg film. These results always seemed to me to range from the ‘that’s gruesome’, to the ‘that’s Okay’, to the seldom ‘I’m satisfied with that’. The exposure/developing process was always so hit and miss with the “4 x 5” emulsions, that I found the attrition rate unacceptable when I was paying for the film.
The SX70 was more satisfactory – the motorised processing and extended development time – resulted in fewer outright disasters; colours were often expected and sometimes the tonal range was very short, but on the whole I thought it the best of the Polaroid films. Polaroid also made a great copy film, and I often copied photographs onto Polaroids for artistic effect. The image at the top of this page for example, is a third generation copy on Polariod 100 Film. Oddly enough, a bright pink shirt and a funny hat that I was given at the launch of this film, are still going strong (albeit in the garden) long after the film itself has been consigned to history. While I am intrigued by the Impossible Project’s dream, I am inclined to think that Polaroid film may have had its day in the sun.