I was standing besides my mother, in a very dark corner of our attic. Only a little orangy bulb was burning, casting a very secretive light. Three little baths with chemicals and water on the table top. A big machine standing next to it. My mother inserted a negative in the machine and all of a sudden, on the white surface below, there he was: one of my brothers, chilled to the bones standing besides a small lake, somewhere in Sweden. A piece of paper was put in the right place. My mother turned on a light in the machine, counted, shut the light down and put the piece of white paper in the one of the little baths. Slowly, the white piece of paper started to transform. Vaguely first, clearer with every second. And then that moment when all the development had been done to a picture, and we were able to switch on the regular lights so we could see what my mum had created. You never knew if you’d done it all properly until then.
It was like magic.
Digital photography took most of the uncertainty out of photography. A good thing I’d say. People’s snapshots are now in focus, because they’re able to check it instantly and take another one. The amount of blurry negatives we had on our family holiday rolls, what a waste! Still, that same certainty and instant gratification of seeing your picture at the back of your camera, a mere second after taking it…it has taken the joy of anticipation away…but now it’s back!
You may (or may not) have heard of The Impossible Project. In 2008 Polaroid stopped producing integral instant film and its last production site, located in my home town (Enschede), was closed down. And then something unexpected happened:
“In October 2008 The Impossible Project saved the last Polaroid production plant for integral instant film in Enschede (NL) and started to invent and produce totally new instant film materials for traditional Polaroid cameras. In 2010 Impossible saved analog instant photography from extinction by releasing various, brand new and unique instant films.
Therewith Impossible prevents more than 300.000.000
perfectly functioning Polaroid cameras from becoming obsolete, changes the world of photography and keeps variety, tangibility and analogue creativity and possibilites alive.”
Thus, my former neighbours (I used to live next to the Polaroid factory), continued to produce instant film. From scratch though. They had to reverse engineer the whole process, find new partnerships for producing the chemicals needed, and with small steps produce a film that could be used again.
My dear friend Pedro was the first person to tell me about The Impossible Project, and the first person I knew to jump on the band wagon when the first films were on sale in 2010. He infected me.
If you’ve been following me elsewhere you may have noticed that a while ago Pedro gave me something. An old-fashioned camera. One without a SD-slot or Flash-card, yet with a big slot for cassettes with photographic paper inside. He gave me a Polaroid SX-70 camera, for me to experiment with. And thus I took my first Polaroid-style pictures ever.
A week ago we visited Pedro and his wife Patrícia in Düsseldorf (to pick up Peter) and while strolling through the city, Pedro carried several camera’s with him, all using a different type of integral film (and watch him buy more camera’s on the go). Pedro said something about the instant gratification it gives, to have, yet again, a physical picture in your hand, with a somewhat unpredictable result.
I have to agree with him. I’ve taken so many digital pictures, but none of it ends up in a physical form. They live in iPhoto or end up at Flickr and for most of them, that’s good enough. I can’t even be bothered anymore to throw away the bad shots. Disk space is abundant. But sometimes it feels like a picture has lost its value all together. There are so many of them, and I carry one or more camera’s always with me that they’ve become too easy, too abundant.
The polaroid camera brings back that moment of anticipation, that unpredicted outcome, that thrill when turning over your picture for the first time, minutes after you took it, the disappointment when it failed, or the joy of it being better than expected, how the colour still develops in the next 24 hours. Even the failed pictures sometimes turn out to be beauties.
The current Impossible Film makes a photograph a thing beyond capturing a moment in time. Due to its experimental phase, there are many tricks to using the film, such as shielding the picture from light immediately after the picture ejects from the camera. A challenge resulting in interesting hacks added to the camera. The rather unstable form of the current Impossible Film transforms a picture in an unpredictable way, and I like that.
On top of that, the film isn’t cheap, so you’d better think twice about what you’re going to capture. Therefore it’s back to basics when taking a picture: looking, watching, stepping back, stepping forwards, checking the composition again, and turning the camera off without taking a picture if it doesn’t look right through the lens.
Last Friday I stocked up on some new films, bought at the Factory Outlet for a very reasonable price, since they were from batches that weren’t 100% OK. On Sunday it stopped raining (at last!), so Ton and I set out for our usual stroll around the neighbourhood. Obviously, I had to take the SX-70 with me to experiment with the new type of film (using a ND-filter on top of PX680 film). Ton being a very good assistant, standing ready next to me with a box to immediately put the pictures in, to shield the pictures from light (unlike men, I have very few shirts with a breast pocket. Correction: I have none). I can tell you this, people walking past us noticed we were taking pictures back from the future.
Capturing Impossible Moments, it’s like magic again.