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Friday, 15 January 2010

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What I miss most is the 35mm Polaroid color slides with the little developing machine -- not so much for art work, but for "right now" slides. Everything you needed (except the machine itself) came in the film box. People in academia loved the things, because you could shoot, say, a photograph of a series of reasonably high-resolution paintings or photographs, and an hour later, be projecting them in a classroom. With the best consumer digital projectors, the images look like they're being projected through a fish tank, compared to old slide film. (I know, there are ways to convert digital to 35mm slides, or you can just go ahead and shoot slide film, but those methods are not "right now.")

And, I liked the quality of the Polaroid slides. They were a little weird, in terms of color, but interesting.

Interesting that the subset of people who would walk around with bamboo skewers and hot plates in order to manipulate images, are generally not interested in the far greater, and easier, manipulation opportunities that digital provides. There must be something about the physical process that attracts them, as an SX-70 present is probably not that hard to make and adjust in say, Lightroom.

It is uncanny that you should bring this up as I still have my Polaroid slide making machine! I did not experiment with the instant slides long enough because my first love was Velvia, and I found them expensive. You got so little- about 12 in a pack versus 36 in a roll of slide films. However, it had wonderful grainy, coarse properties which benefitted moody looking images. And the thrill and anticipation of making your own slides on the same day they were taken was indescribable. I saved only two examples: http://johnroias.smugmug.com/Landscapes/Landscape-Impressions/6106943_s6ys4/15 --the image is called "Haunting landscape" replete with its own pink sun! (colour shift which I really like!) and http://luminous-landscape.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=40811
The colours shifted and created these weird bands of triple colours. If I was to use them today, I would immediately weed out the bad ones and digitize the good ones. But who knows, maybe the structure was never intended to be scanned and the bands I see are it's inherent structure. Sigh, time marches on.

JMR

"Interesting that the subset of people who would walk around with bamboo skewers and hot plates in order to manipulate images, are generally not interested in the far greater, and easier, manipulation opportunities that digital provides."

Where did Jim say he was not interested in digital? Since when does being interested in film mean you're not interested in digital? I'm interested in both.

Mike

Thanks for this piece, Jim. I own several "obsolete" cameras which do not realize that they're dead and give me much enjoyment (and top performance) whenever I (admittedly infrequently) use them. There's never a clinically logical reason for me to use a Rolleiflex, a Leica MP, or an Olympus Pen FT whatsoever. But there's often no logical reason for me to take pictures at all, so the idiocy doesn't bother me. I still enjoy the creativity and craftsmanship that went into creating these tools.

Regarding Polaroid's SX-70, Polaroid hired Charles and Ray Eames to produce a promotional/informational film to introduce the camera to dealers and distributors. It became a true classic in its own right. It's freely viewable thanks to YouTube and definitely worth 11 minutes. Look at how the Eames's take you through the camera's concept, design, and operation so smoothly. They were a very design talented team. (Filmmaking was a sideline for them.)

My own perspective is to mainly celebrate development rather than to mourn obsolescence. Whenever I catch myself mourning bygone tools and techniques I generally discover, upon closer introspection, that my nostalgia is actually centered on broader memories of bygone times.

There are a lot of memories there... I used to sell the SX-70 in the Camera department of a department store back in the 70s, along with the Kodak X-15, 110 pocket cameras and the like. Kodak had the 'flash cubes' and the SX-70 had the strips of flash bulbs that fit into a socket at the top. What I remember most of Polaroid at that time wasn't the slide maker, but the slide printer. I could take a 35mm slide, put it in the machine and a few minutes later pull off the back of a small Polaroid print. The colours were terrible, but it WAS instantaneous!

Mike.

A digital simulation of a manipulated SX-70 photograph is not different in kind than a Kodachrome slide of the windows in Ste. Chappelle. It's not without utility, but as they say, the map is not the territory.

Bamboo skewers vs. digital manipulation - certainly one who loves to manipulate will enjoy the possibilities of photoshop. The charm here, to me at least, is that the polaroid you're manipulating is a unique physical object, a canvas without "undo". A combination of photography and painting. Certainly could be emulated in photoshop - have a look at www.poladroid.net - but that's not the point. The fun, and restrictions imposed by the material and the creative reaction to it are all as important.

Very nice piece.

"...one European company—having bought a closed Polaroid factory in Holland, lock, stock and barrel—seems devoted to keeping the analog-instant flame alive; a check of its website reveals that the much appreciated SX-70 Blend packs, called SX-70 TZ..."

I am one of those who formerly manipulated SX-70 film. can this new version be manipulated, does anyone know?

I have several boxes of 10 year old Type 55 film and wish I could find the damn 545 holder to shoot them with. It would be really sweet if someone would start making the 4x5 and 8x10 color film again, I just loved doing those transfers....

On the Polapremium website mentioned in the post, a box of type 55 is yours for $243 USD. ooops.

I had an SX-70 in the 1970's. I still have most of the pictures I took with it. The color has held up well and I think today that fact surprises me especially when I remember my first inkjet prints which I sent my mother. She put them on the mantle and in less than a year they had faded to nothingness.

For a large number of the Polaroid fanatics, the process is as much a part of the attraction as the results. While it's quite possible to duplicate the results digitally (Polaroid presets abound), the experience of shooting and manipulating the print is extremely different.

Personally I'm not a Polaroid shooter, but being a film shooter who prefers to work with traditional B&W films I quite thoroughly understand where the Polaroid shooters are coming from. The process itself is as important as the results, possibly more.

I loved those Polaroid cameras, if for no other reason that they seemed to my child's eye to be a kind of miraculous miniature Rube Goldberg machine--a camera and darkroom rolled into one compact pocketable device that collapsed flat and could fit in your coat pocket. The mechanical/physical aspect of it contributed to the sense of magic.

I've thought of Doctor Land this year as I have contemplated whether or not Apple would be able to thrive, or even survive as an innovative company without Steve Jobs who seems to be to be a kind of Land doppelganger. It seems to me that some important ways Polaroid was the Apple of its day.

One element often neglected about Polaroid is the uniqueness of the final product. This bridges a gap between photography and painting. Why didn't I get myself a Philips 8x10 with Polaroid back and processor when it was available? LF photography inevitably leads to a meditative approach, only enhanced by the singularity of the print. We will probably never see this again in photography.

I think an important distinction is that these other products were fads. The digital revolution is equivalent to the Industrial Revolution, and it's just not happening in photography alone.

Mike, it's great you were able to post that. Jim's writing was always the high point of each Camera Arts issue (last incarnation), even more so in its final years.

Best wishes to Jim on his permanent Maine relocation. I hope you can get him to contribute articles here once in a while.

Good news for all SX-70 fans! The European company Jim Hughes alluded to, Impossible B.V. (website: www.theimpossibleproject.com), has reinvented and simplified the Polaroid integral film manufacturing process, and will be introducing 600-ISO B&W integral film next month(!), and color film later in the year. Can be used as-is in all the Pronto and 600-series Polaroid cameras, and with a 2-stop ND filter in all the folding-style SX-70 cameras. Yay!!!

Since going back to using a Super Ikonta B, I've been asked If my retro mood will take me as far back as daguerreotypes, and to remember that mercury vapor makes photographers mad as hatters.

I replied, yes, I can then make quick silver prints.

While the end product may look good and be useful, simulating the look of plastic media via software omits much or all of the experience, which sometimes can be for the better, and sometimes can miss the point entirely.

The thing about SX70 manipulation is that it was done in the moment, in context--it was just as much a part of the fleeting experience as it was a product of it. To some extent, that's part of the magic of analog instant photography in general.

@Ed Kirkpatrick: used 545 holders these days are plentiful and dirt cheap. At this moment, KEH.com has one in Ex condition for $9.

Thanks to Jim for mentioning the new Fuji instant cameras. They look interesting.

Also, I agree with Mike's comment yesterday about film vs. digital. Why do we have to choose between them? We should be able to have both. I use both all the time. Unfortunately, I am down to just a few rolls of Kodachrome in the fridge. My dad was a professional photographer and his favorite 35mm film was Kodachrome so I have to use my remaining supply carefully.

Herman,
*groan*....

Mike

On the Polapremium website mentioned in the post, a box of type 55 is yours for $243 USD. ooops.
Posted by: Ed Kirkpatrick | Saturday, 16 January 2010 at 07:19 AM

Check out http://www.poladroid.net/download.html if you want a free digital version of the Polaroid process. It allows for shaking and ending the process early. You'll have to find digital shish kebob skewers and hot plates on your own.

More Jim Hughes commentary would be great

Mike, thank you for publishing Jim's article, which I enjoyed reading. I found Jim's personal perspective on Dr Edwin Land particularly interesting; it builds on the appreciation of the man that I've gained recently through TOP.

In an interview with Jim Hughes published on John Paul Caponigro's website, Jim says that his purpose with Camera Arts was "to bring together readers who become a community and then service them as a community to create a dialogue so that through pictures, through letters, through the articles, they could all be talking to each other." Jim's goal seems to match what you are achieving with TOP, and perhaps he might, therefore, provide further contributions to TOP towards that end.

At the end of that interview, Jim said "I think photography is one of the few arts that comes out of a life being lived", which is a thought worth reflecting on, I think.

Regards, Rod.

"It's not without utility, but as they say, the map is not the territory."

This is what I like about this site, in a discussion about a post some one can manage to reference Alfred Korzybski and the theory of General Semantics.

That said, I miss SX70 film. I hope they can recreate it and not just the 600 series style film. Can I hope for type 55, probably not .......

Thanks so much for posting Jim's column. I started reading Camera 35 in the 1970s while still in high school, so we go back a long way. To Jay M... I've shot 2 packs of that TZ film. You can manipulate it like Time Zero SX-70, but the colors are odd. Skin tones can be acceptable but blue skies were rendered a bright green. With shipping, I recall spending $70 for 2 packs.

There is another point about manipulation vs photoshop simulation. With Polaroids the technology is mostly invisible. You don't see or have to be involved with or understand the high level of engineering to produce that little 3X3 inch miracle in your hand. You need nothing more high tech than a stick. On the other hand to do something similar with digital, similar but not the same, I would assume you would need a computer and software and the considerable skill and practice to carry it off.

Thanks to all for the comments, and especially for fleshing out my update on newly available -- or unavailable, as the case may be -- "Polaroid" materials. - Jim

The best Polaroid-type camera ever was made by Kodak. We had one and it produced wonderful bright, clear photos. It is too bad there was the lawsuit between Polaroid and Kodak which forced Kodak to stop making them and the film for them. As a result, Kodak gave us a Disc camera (now, that was a dud!).

I still enjoy taking pictures of my grandkids with my old Polaroid 195 camera using the Fuji B&W 3000 film. The kids get a kick out of seeing their image in 30 seconds and that they can take it with them!

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