January 30, 2013 § 7 Comments
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to stop by the 20×24 Studio in New York to visit with John Reuter & Nafis Azad. As many of you might know, I’m a HUGE advocate of instant photography and promote its use as often as I can through the Instant Film Society. My wife and I were visiting New York for my birthday and besides visiting The Impossible Project gallery space, visiting the 20×24 Studio was something that I really was looking forward to.
Before my meeting on Friday with 20×24, I had swung by The Impossible Project to meet Dr. Florian Kaps that morning, who on the off chance just happened to be in town. While visiting TIP’s studio space the day before, Anne, the US marketing director, had mentioned that he was in NYC for a few days and told me if I swung back on Friday, I could meet him. I wasn’t going to pass up that chance. I’m grateful for the opportunity (thank you Anne) and it was really cool spending a few minutes with him talking about what I’ve been doing in Texas to promote instant film.
The meeting with John was scheduled for Friday afternoon. Synthia and I made our way over to Murray St. from the Flatiron District on a brisk New York winter’s day following a meet up we had with Rommel Pecson (incredible photographer and a hell of a nice guy). Upon our arrival, I called John, left him a message and we waited. A friendly gentleman poked his head out of the door “Are you waiting for someone?” “Yes. We’re just waiting for John. Is he here by chance?” He opened the door for us and smiled. “He’s not here at the moment, but you’re more than welcome to wait in the lobby. It’s warmer in here than it is out there.”
After a few minutes, John, the Executive Director at 20×24 since 1980, and Nafis, the Director of Photography at 20×24, came racing through the door, walked right past us and quickly made their way up a staircase that was adjacent to the lobby. Synthia looked at me and waved her hands towards the stairs in a go-after-them motion. I shook my head and whispered, “I’m just going to be patient. He’ll return my call soon enough.” I waited a few minutes and with a you-better-call-him-again-look, Synthia convinced me to call John back. After a couple of rings, he answered the phone “John, this is Justin .. “ He quickly replied “Oh no! Did we walk right past you downstairs? I’m so sorry!” I chuckled “It’s OK! It’s no biggie ..”
The elevator door opened a few seconds later and we made our way up to the third floor. When we opened the door to the studio, I stepped into a place that I was literally dreaming about the night before. The first thing I noticed was of course the legendary 20×24 Polaroid camera. I was completely stunned. I quickly gained my composure, walked over to Nafis, introduced ourselves and immediately thanked him for their time today. John, who was busy working on his laptop, stood up quickly and walked over to us to shake our hands. The phone rang. Nafis answered it and John was fast at work back on the phone booking a shoot. Nafis and I talked for a little while about photography and how each of us had begun on this life-long journey. I love this type of banter between professionals. You can quickly gauge what type of person you’re dealing with when you talk with one another about your own passion for photography. Some photographers puff their chests up and start bragging. Both Nafis & John really did none of that. They were very down to earth and had their feet planted firmly on the ground … I tip my hat to them.
We spent a good amount of time at the studio. I asked John a variety of questions concerning the history of the camera, what developments were in the works for new instant film and many other things. I recorded about 30 minutes of my conversation and I’ve culled it down to what I feel are the most important details of our visit.
Can you give me a brief history of the 20×24 camera?
In the middle of the 1970’s, Polaroid was getting ready to produce color film for 8×10 cameras. They had only made 4×5 film up until then. The film was always made on a very large web. The negative was 60 inches and the positive was 44. It wasn’t like they had to manufacture the film for something like this to happen. Dr. Land, being the showman that he always was, wanted to do a big thing at an upcoming shareholder’s meeting. He was, sort of like the prototype of Steve Jobs, in terms of big splash demos. He told his research people, what if we could create a picture that was 20×24. The way they got to 20×24, was that there was a process camera in one of the labs and they actually rigged a Polaroid back to go onto it. The maximum size of that was 20×24. That’s were 20×24 came from. They could have easily done 24×30, a more traditional photographic size, but 20×24 it was. They also, at the same time, went ahead and built a 40×80 camera. For the shareholder’s meeting, they showcased copies of paintings that were done for the museum of fine arts, and had portrait demos; Andy Warhol did a portrait from the stage, Marie Cosindas photographed Candice Bergman. The camera was a big hit. Edwin Land decided that Polaroid would commission their own woodworking and metal shops to produce 5 of these cameras, which they did over 1977-78. They opened a studio first in Cambridge, on company property at Ames St. near MIT, and they started inviting artists and photographers to come in to use it. That began the artist core program based around 20×24. There had always been fairly active programs supporting the smaller formats. It started in the 60’s and was in its zenith in the late 1970’s. Eventually they hoped that it would start to pay for itself, because it’s a very expensive process even when it was just used for promotion. Polaroid started doing market research and brought the camera down to New York in 1980 for three months, reaching out to art directors & professional photographers at a temporary space off of Broadway and 29th St. After three months, Polaroid brought the camera back to Massachusetts. I was at the Museum School in Boston for 3 or 4 years, and we primarily had the artist program as the major part of it. Some commercial jobs started rolling in, and we started to come down to New York a lot more. A week here .. a week there. Finally in 1986, we decided to move down full-time, which we did at Broadway and Prince Street. Polaroid continued their artist program, slowly but surely, the studio became more and more commercial. In fact a lot of our supported artists became our customers, because they started to become successful with the work. They had museum shows or got editorial jobs. We actually did a surprising amount of advertising work in the 80’s and early 90’s. And then of course, Polaroid’s troubles started. We knew as early as 2004, that Polaroid was getting out of the film business, although we couldn’t tell anybody then cause they didn’t want the customers to know. They were worried that if they found out, they would stop buying the film. And what happened was just the opposite. When they finally did tell everybody that they were getting out of the film business, people rushed in to buy it. What they set aside, they projected out that it would last X number of years, it was taken in a quarter of the time. They had no ability at that point to make more. They had stopped the chemical process first. Because Polaroid was licensed and permitted for all these very hefty chemicals, they made a lot of their own chemicals. Once that stopped and they had canceled these things, there was no going back. You’d have to reapply for permits and who knows if they would have gotten them. They did terminal runs of film in 2006 of all the sheet positive for all of their films and sold them all in 2008. We moved here in the summer of 2008 and we’ve been here since.
How much film do you have?
We have about 27,000 meters of 22 inch rolls. That’s a lot. More than we can use in about 10 years and it’s not going to last 10 years so we have to do something. My hope is that getting smaller formats (8×10 and possibly 4×5) out into the marketplace will prompt us, if the demand is good, to be able to make new film. I think that pent up demand should be good.
Have you created a new reagent for your films?
We are going to create a new one for our black and white film. Some of the chemicals that are needed are harmful. This is what happened to Impossible. The European Union has stricter environmental laws than the US does. Some of the chemicals that were grandfathered in to the early Polaroid films are no longer legal. They can’t use some of those materials and that’s the case with a couple of things that we use. But the other problem is, that’s almost equally as bad, is that Polaroid used to sometimes make some of this stuff themselves or would buy from vendors who had a huge minimum buy. For instance, they’d have to buy $100,000 worth of one compound. It was never a problem for Polaroid, because they sold millions of dollars worth of film. It’s economically prohibitive to use certain things. But B&W is kind of simple. It’s just a more elaborate form of traditional black and white reagent.
How does the transfer process work between the negative & the positive after developer paste has been smeared in between?
When it’s exposed, if you make a comparison to conventional photography, you expose an image, let’s say that B&W portrait for instance (John pointed towards a newly shot B&W image tacked up on the wall), and you have the whites and you have the blacks. When you develop that up, in conventional and then you fix it, you reduce what was not used. So, the areas that would be black or dark gray, don’t develop out. They just sit there and when you fix it, they go away and the film becomes clear and it prints black. What happens with instant, is instead of being reduced by a fixer, it instead transfers over to the positive. Where you have no exposure, all your black will come over to the positive and give you black. Where you have exposure in the highlights, it will all stay on the negative and not go into the positive. Obviously various tones transfer over and it moves into the gray tones. Rather than being fixed out, reduced and run down the drain, it instead just moves over to another piece of material and you get two products from it, the positive print and the negative.
Who inspires you with the work you do?
I have a much more painterly bent. When I was younger, all my influences were painters. Surrealist painters; Max Ernst and Rene Magritte. Then later expressionists like Francis Bacon. In black & white, I was a big admirer of Jerry Uelsmann and Ralph Gibson. Although more often, influence from the painters really found their way into my work.
When I was visiting, I noticed a piece of art that John had created hanging on the wall. One of his collages, which at the time I thought was an analog collage. John explained to me how he created it …
This was a digital collage first done in Photoshop. Back in the 90’s, Polaroid not only had a film scanner, but they also had a film recorder that output RGB tones to film. Almost like a cathode ray tube for TV … it would write back to film. It was an 8000 line recorder (pretty hi-res). I’d get a 4×5 transparency of this collage I created in PS and then I would take that and use some of my Sinar components and turn my camera into an enlarger of sorts. I’d mount the transparency on a piece of milk plexiglass, have an enlarging lens on the standard and the front bellows just fed into the camera. I back lit the transparency with a strobe and set it literally like an enlarger. Then I would print to 20×24 film and then do an image transfer. The transfers I did, I always liked to have them distressed and a little messed up. I would do a huge amount of hand coloring. A lot of retouching dyes, pastel, dye pigment .. which is why they are still here. If they were just straight transfers they would be very light by now. The transfer process never was all that stable. Although, now when people do them, everyone scans them. You can scan a 4×5 transfer and easily blow it up to 11×14, 16×20. So we’ve moved over the years to sort of an analog capture to a digital output philosophy to best take advantage of the medium. I miss doing them. It was a lot of fun to work with the materials that way.
When researching the 20×24 Studio online before my trip, I ran across many informative posts on their website. A couple of videos that might interest you; one shot by Inside Analog Photo shows the 20×24 camera in action and the other shows the developer pods being created.
20×24 Studio is currently having 2 additional cameras made for them by Mammoth Camera in California. If you’re interested in this format and would like to have one of your own, click here for future information.
What are the specifications of the camera?
The 20×24 camera is a traditional view camera, but has hybrid characteristics of a rail camera and field camera. It weighs 235 pounds and sits on a rectangular frame on wheels that supports a two-column studio stand. The bellows is driven by a telescoping nylon gear that allows bellows extension from 17’’ to 60”. The front standard has 24” of rise and fall, 6” of side to side shift and the ability to swing 4” forward and back. The rear standard of the camera is static and has no independent rise and fall separate from the camera itself. The camera can descend to 24” and rise to a height of 72”. The camera rear box contains a built in processor with 22″ titanium rollers. It is driven by a geared motor drive powered by a 110v AC motor. Transformers are used for 220 or 240v current.
What lenses are used on the 20×24 camera?
The New York Studio offers focal lengths of 1200mm, 800mm, 600mm, 360mm, 210mm, and 135mm. Only the 1200, 800, and 600 were designed for the 20×24 format. Translated into inches these are 48 inch, 31 inch, and 24 inch lenses. The bellows of the camera extends from 17 to 60 inches and each of these lenses will provide different levels of magnification at different bellows extension. The 24 inch lens (600) has the most range of magnification, allowing landscapes at infinity all the way up to 1.5 times lifesize. The shorter focal lengths, which are actually 8×10 and 4×5 lenses provide magnifications from 1.5 times life-size all the way up to 10x. As magnification increases, depth of field decreases and subject to lens distance decreases. At extreme magnification, it becomes more difficult to light the subject, because it is so close and the bellows extension factor can lose up to 8 or 9 stops of light.
How is the film put in the camera?
20×24 film is provided on rolls. The negative is supplied as a 150’ roll and sits on brackets at the top of the camera box. The positive is on a 50’ roll and sits on a similar bracket at the bottom of the processor. There are no sprockets in the film and it is moved into position with tab connected to string with adhesive tape. This simple solution was utilized early on and has never been improved on. Above the positive roll in the camera sits a tray that through a chain driven system moves the chemical reagent pods into position between the two rollers where the negative and positive meet.
20×24 Studio Rental in New York
If you’d like to use this camera and rent time at their studio space in New York, the day rate is $1750. The film is $200 a shot (color or B&W). For a limited time through the end of February 2013, their color film is being offered at a discounted price of $125 a shot. When visiting, I was told to budget for two test images. You might think that is incredibly expensive. For some, it probably is. However, if you think about it, you get exclusive access to the most unique analog camera available and you’ll be sharing in the opportunity to create one of kind works of art on a very special medium. After meeting these gentlemen and seeing this thing in person, it is now one my goals in life to one day use it. If you’re reading this are interested in having your portrait taken with this camera, please get in contact with me. I would love for you to be my first …
John Reuter and Nafis Azad are so talented and meeting them on that day was something I will remember for a lifetime.
Thanks again for your time and this opportunity gents. I look forward to the next time we’re in New York City. I will definitely be stopping by to say hello if you’re in town.
January 14, 2013 § 24 Comments
About a year ago, I was surfing the Craigslist photo ads here in Dallas and up came an ad for a free 8×10 view camera. I quickly emailed the person and within 15 minutes I received a message back. A gentlemen was moving out of town who had an old Burke & James Grover 8×10 that he had been meaning to restore & use but had never got around to it. He asked me if I was into large format and stated that he really wanted this camera to go to the right home. I enthusiastically conveyed to him that I was the right person and would eventually make my way up into the world of large format.
The Burke & James Grover is a utilitarian view camera that is meant to get the job done. It doesn’t have some of the bells & whistles that current 8×10’s have, but it works well, it’s pretty stable and for all intents and purposes, it was just what I had always wanted and needed.
When I arrived at the gentlemen’s home to pick it up, he had a few random camera accessories outside that he later told me was going to throw away on his porch. I looked at them in passing and then rang the door bell. When he greeted me, he was smiling while holding the Burke & James. This was the first time I had seen an 8×10 in person. It’s a pretty unique piece of equipment that’s been used for over a century in the world of photography. I can’t state just how excited I was to simply have the skeleton, if you will, of an 8×10. There was no lens, no 8×10 film holders, a busted lens board and frankly, the camera was pretty dusty. He stated that it had been in his garage for quite some time and he did not have the time to restore or use it. After about 20 minutes of photography small-talk, I thanked him emphatically for contacting me back. He chuckled and said “You know what? There were literally 15 to 20 emails about this 8×10 in 15 minutes. If you ever put “Free 8×10″ in an ad, you’d be surprised at how many respond to it.” I grinned a wide smile. “I bet.” I thanked him one last time and then made my exit.
I was on cloud nine. I had an 8×10. These things aren’t exactly cheap, and granted this thing isn’t the best 8×10 money can buy, but you know what? It was an 8×10 and more importantly, this 8×10 was going to get a lot of use … eventually.
When I got home and showed Synthia the newest acquisition, she was really shocked at the size of this thing and also a little nervous because she knows very well just how into things I can get. “How much is that thing going to cost to get up and running?” she said. “Ummmm .. well it’s not exactly going to be cheap. But, it’s not something I’m going to do tomorrow baby. It’s going to take some time to piece everything together that I’ll need for this.” This put her at ease a little bit and with the placement of the 8×10 on the top of a bookshelf, the notion of using this thing faded away.
A few months later, The Impossible Project announced that it was going to start making black & white 8×10 instant film. Whoa. At this point, I was shooting a lot of instant film and the dream of shooting instant film on 8×10 was just that .. a dream. There was no way I could get everything lined up to use this with instant film. It cost so much money and some of the required items needed (Polaroid 8×10 holder & the Polaroid 8×10 processor) were starting to go for astronomical prices on Ebay. On top of that, I didn’t have a lens and I still had a busted lens board. Oh well .. one day.
Months went by. My focus was on instant photography and eventually into promoting its use and helping others get into instant via the Instant Film Society. Some of you reading this might know that I’m a pretty persistent person and when I find things that truly strike a chord within me, I obsess over them and learn everything I can about it. That’s happened over the past 9 months with instant film and using Impossible’s film. I love it. In using and promoting this medium, I have come in contact with an amazing network of people that I would have otherwise never tapped into. I’ve met a slew of photographers, educators, enthusiasts and amateurs who all enjoy this form of art.
Slowly, things started falling into place. A friend of mine had some extra large format lenses laying around that weren’t getting any use, so I borrowed one of them and ordered a lens board on Ebay that fit the Burke & James. Also, maybe two months ago, I was buying film at Don’s Used Photo Equipment here in Dallas and on my way out, I noticed a Polaroid 8×10 Land Film Holder sitting on the shelf. I walked passed it and before I got to the door, I thought to myself “This is one of those serendipitous situations”. I walked back over to the 8×10 holder and asked the owner, Todd, what he was selling this for. He said “Man .. I have no idea. Make me an offer.” I gave him a number which he liked and then out of nowhere he said “You know .. I might have some Polaroid 8×10 in the back. Let me go see.” I started to get excited. About 5 minutes later he came back with an unmarked box and was smiling. “Let’s open this thing up and see what’s in it.” A pocket knife flipped open and within a few seconds 15 negatives & positives of Polaroid 809 revealed themselves. I asked him if it had been cold stored. It hadn’t, but I knew that he kept his place at a decent temperature for storage. After some debate and negotiating, we made a deal that I was very happy with. When I got back home, I was curious if the pods that held the developer paste had dried up in storage (always a risk with expired instant film). I opened up the cartridge that held the 15 positives and gently touched a pod. They were soft to the touch. The magical goop hadn’t hardened at all.
There was still one key thing needed; an 8×10 Polaroid processor. In order to develop Polaroid 8×10 film, you need a machine that runs the positive and negative side of the film through these giant rollers (either electronically or manually) to spread the developing paste in between them so the development process starts. Polaroid checked out of the instant market in 2008 and these machines hadn’t been made in years. Sure they are out there, but they are expensive. These processors are in high demand. When Impossible Project announced they were going to start making 8×10 instant film, the price of the processors skyrocketed during the following months, from under $100 on average to $500-1000+. Yikes. Not exactly cheap. When I got back home from Don’s, I started looking at instant images shot on 8×10 cameras and I stumbled upon a girl in town who had shot Impossible’s 8×10 test film. I messaged her up and told her about my interest in 8×10 and asked if she had access to a Polaroid processor. Annie was in school in Florida, and she did have a working processor, but wasn’t going to be back until Christmas.
Some time went by and I continually scoured the internet, looking for something that I could possibly pick up. Nothing. Everything was out of my budget and it seemed like the 8×10 instant photography dream would just have to wait. Then one day, while searching online, I found a guy in Kansas that was selling one. I emailed him, told him a little about myself and what I was doing here in Texas to promote instant film with the Instant Film Society. I asked if he would be interested in donating the processor so I could use it to help teach others about instant photography and help spread the love of instant. He messaged me back, told me that he wished that he could donate to such a worthy cause, but he really needed the money for it. Totally understandable. It was worth a shot. He did say however, that he was willing to work with me on it and would like to come to some sort of an agreement that was beneficial for both us. After some quick negotiating a happy medium was met and within a few days he shipped off the processor. I had him send it to my friend’s camera repair shop, just in case I wasn’t home to receive it, and when I got the call that it had arrived, I raced up there to go pick it up and test it out.
I ran inside and picked up the box. Uh oh. I could hear what sounded like small bits of plastic moving around. I opened up the box, which was packaged to perfection I might add, and pulled out the 8×10 Polaroid Processor. I flipped the cover open, turned some tabs and removed the rollers. Oh boy. Sitting before me were two rollers that were completely detached and busted from the roller assembly that holds them in place. This is not good. I called the gentlemen that I had purchased it from on the phone and within a few minutes we were discussing how this could have happened and what we were going to do. Well, at least I had a processor. Not a functional one at this moment, but I knew with a little bit of work, things would be OK. I called my friend Steve (who was introduced to me by Annie actually and also has an 8×10 processor) on the phone and he and I started brainstorming on what we could possibly do. He stated that I probably shouldn’t repackage it up and ship it back, because at this point, a) I had a processor b) I might be able to find a non-working processor to repair this one and have extra parts for later .. good point .. and c) maybe .. just maybe we could get some parts printed with a 3D printer or have them created from a mold made from parts out of his. Challenging but possible. I assume these processors haven’t had replacement parts made for them in YEARS. My options were limited.
After a little bit of time, it was looking like creating a 3D print was going to be the best place to start. Steve got in contact with some friends at Dallas Maker Space, an organization he’s involved with in town and started sharing some of the images of the broken part via email . The feedback he got was positive so we met on a Thursday night and enlisted the help from one of its members to create a 3D model and print. Mike was all about it. He jumped right to it, set up his 3D printer, a Maker Bot I believe and began taking measurements, creating a model on his computer and eventually, after about 4-5 hours of work, began printing the part that was needed. His level of expertise and knowledge were greatly appreciated. This sort of thing just doesn’t happen. Serendipity is a wonderful thing. Mike ended up working late in the evening on this, but after some time, he told us he needed to clean up the 3D model a little more. He worked on it over the weekend and suggested we have the part printed up professionally once the model was finished. At this point in time, I’m in limbo and hope that this works. *my fingers are crossed*
I had booked a shoot with Sarah Sellers that upcoming weekend and I can’t tell you how excited I was to finally shoot this stuff. Even with the shipping mishap, luckily Annie (who left to go back to school for the semester) left her processor with Steve & I so we could use it while she was away. If you’re reading this Annie .. THANK YOU AGAIN. I picked up the processor and knew I had to test out a shot or two before Sarah’s shoot. Friday rolled around and I decided to cruise up to my friend’s studio to test out an image (probably a good idea right?). I set up a handful of strobes with stripboxes and an octabox. I framed Synthia holding a camera, loaded the negative into the Polaroid 81-06 holder, double checked my focus with a loupe on the 8×10, slid the holder into place, removed the dark slide and tripped the shutter. I gently slid the darkslide back into the holder and removed it from the 8×10. Nervously, I placed a positive sheet (which has the developer pods at the top) into the 81-09 tray, slid the Polaroid negative holder into place and pressed the button. The processor grabbed the negative & the positive and smeared developer paste between the two as they whirred through the rollers. Now the longest four minute wait of my life …
I was practically jumping up and down freaking out! I was in awe of just how incredible this looked! After my excitement wore off (really it never did) I messaged Sarah up telling her how excited and anxious I was about her shoot. It was going to be, for lack of a better word, epic. Epic beyond belief. 8×10 …
Saturday rolled around and my brother Josh, who’s worked extensively with Sarah over the past year producing new songs with her with his engineering parter Brad, opened up the music studio they work out of and we shot a handful of images there. For all of these images, I used a three light setup with Alien Bees. If you’re interested in heavy technical details I can give them to you. Just send a message my way to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to pass the info along.
I shot 3 images in 3 hours and frankly, I don’t ever want to create images in any other form or fashion again. I feel that using this 8×10 camera has spoiled me. There’s absolutely nothing like large format photography. I’m hooked …
Following Saturday’s shoot, we met back up on Sunday at a photography studio in Richardson to shoot some more material. This time around I wanted to capture a really good close-up of Sarah, a full length shot and of course anything else that came to mind. When she arrived, I set up a beauty dish and a couple of strip boxes and set the 8×10 up.
This time around, because of how close I had to focus, the bellows was extended waaaaay out. I think the bellows extension factor ended up being about a stop and a half if not a little more (thanks for the tip Mat Marrash). Nervously, I slipped the holder into place, held my breath, hoped that Sarah hadn’t rocked too far back or forward and tripped the shutter.
Sweet! Another successful image. Phew! Shooting this stuff isn’t exactly easy and it definitely makes you think about everything .. i mean EVERYTHING when shooting each image. It’s just a little bit stressful, but I’m OK with that. I set up the lights for a full length shot and Sarah got changed into another outfit. Admittedly, the first image I took in this scene was about a stop under-exposed (I had a hunch but didn’t listen to myself .. I’ll listen next time). I loaded up another image and tried one more time. Bam.
By this time, we had probably spent a good 2-3 hours in the studio setting up lights and arranging things so they were just right. Out of all the images taken, I had yet to take an image outdoors. Synthia had a great idea and asked what it would look like if Sarah held the close up we had taken earlier in front of her face for an image. Brilliant. I am a fan of picture in picture images. Why not take a picture in picture with Impossible’s 8×10 PQ?
We set up outdoors in the alleyway (it was so cold!) and I snapped this image of Sarah ..
It was getting close to sunset, so we decided to take a break and would meet back up in an hour to take another image. For this image, which ended up being the final one of the day, I wanted to shoot a silhouette of Sarah’s profile using a two light setup. I set up a speedlight behind her with a reflector around it to create a circular shape on the wall and then set up a strobe with a stripbox to shine a little bit of light on her face. Once it was metered out and she was in the right position, you guessed it, I did the 8×10 Polaroid shuffle and waited with Sarah as the image developed.
My thoughts on this film? Challenging, elegant and unforgiving. There are so many variables that you have to think of and be aware of when shooting 8×10 instant film. It really tests your skills. This stuff isn’t child’s play. I can’t stress enough just how stressful it can be to shoot, but are the results worth it? Absolutely. The experience of shooting Impossible’s 8×10 instant film are unlike any other that you will have. It creates a special bond between the photographer and the person being shot. You know that all of the work put into each image will create something unique .. something beautiful. When you shoot 8×10 instant film, you’re not just creating a photograph .. you’re creating a tangible, analog work of art.
What’s next in my journey with 8×10? Sharing this experience with others. On January 26th, I’m hosting a PolaWalk in Dallas, TX with the Instant Film Society. If you’re in the area and would like to witness this process in action, you’re more than welcome to join us. We’ll be shooting 8×10 instant images of the participants of the walk at the cost of film (hopefully we’ll have enough). If you’d like more information, click here.
Thank you Impossible for bringing back this legendary film format. Keep doing what you’re doing …
PS – Sarah Sellers, thank you for trusting me to shoot these images with you. Synthia and I had such a great time. It was a weekend we will NEVER forget.
October 22, 2012 § Leave a comment
I’ve recently started using Impossible’s LIFT IT! brush set for emulsion transfers. Included in the set are four brushes, varying in size, which aide in the removal, positioning & manipulation of the gelatinous emulsion during transfers. In the past, I was using regular watercolor brushes to remove the emulsion from the mylar surface of instant images. That had been working OK, but since I’ve gotten these, I’m never turning back …
I’ve heard, “Aren’t these the same as brushes that I can pick up at Michael’s or Hobby Lobby?” At first, I assumed they might be. Not quite the case. When I would use other brushes, the bristles would flare out and I’d end up using the base of the bristles to push off & remove the emulsion. Sometimes I would end up tearing the emulsion while I was removing it, because invariably I was using the metal/wood portion at the base of the bristles. The LIFT IT brushes are designed well. The brushes that need to stay ridged and/or soft deliver. The #1 brush for instance, stays ridged while you use the soft bristles of the brush to remove the emulsion. This helps the user remove it without the heightened risk of tearing it. When you’re dealing with a gelatinous material, being as careful as you can is key.
Since I’ve started using the LIFT IT kit, I’ve made a handful of transfers for family & friends. I made a couple more this evening for this blog post to walk you through the steps. The steps might vary from person to person. This is one of the methods I use. I used three images to make two emulsion transfers. One will be dried & stowed away in the “another random transfer” file & the other will end up being a card for my grandmother.
Brush #3 was made to shape, distort and to remove contortions after the transfer, however, I found that it also served well as a tool to wipe away the developer residue from the backside of the emulsion. The brush is super soft and the fine bristles worked really well at this task.
At this point, I used brush #4 to brush away some of the creases. After a little bit of brushing the creases grew on me; I decided to leave it alone and let it dry.
Positioning these onto paper can be a little difficult. It’s best to use small delicate motions with the brushes to move it around. Once the emulsion is spread out, I’ve found you can position the paper underneath, and use gentle side-to-side motions to carefully make water movement push the image around. It takes a little bit of practice. Once I get the image where I want it, I slide a brush underneath the paper and gently push up from the middle to bring it out of the water.
About halfway through this process, brush #4 was a little gunked up with the gelatinous goo. Nothing a quick dip in cold water couldn’t fix; it was as good as new.
When I was finished transferring the emulsions, I used the soap provided in the LIFT IT kit and thoroughly cleaned the bristles. They were clean within a matter of seconds and I set them aside to dry.
– The Transfers –
Should you buy it? Of course. Why? For a couple of reasons .. the main one is they really do work well and if cared for properly, these brushes should last you many, many, many transfers (years!). #2 – Do I really have to say it? You’ll be supporting one of the only instant photography companies by purchasing it. Buying their products empowers them to keep providing us with great analog materials to create art. It’s a no brainer!
Help keep instant alive!
If you have ANY questions whatsoever, please send a message my way. I’m always happy to help in any way that I can.
Thanks for your time!
September 18, 2012 § 6 Comments
Last weekend, Synthia and I went to the ranch to photograph Erica Perry’s bridal & promo photos. When we were finished, we headed up to Synthia’s parents house to celebrate her niece’s b-day. While we were visiting, her mom told us that she had an old 35mm camera at the dentist office that she wanted to give us. The three of us cruised up the road and rummaged around the attic and found the camera; a Yashica inter-oral macro camera. The lens has an inner ring flash and is fixed to the body (pretty cool, needs an odd battery). While we were up there, Synthia’s mom mentioned that they might have an old Polaroid too. She went searching through some boxes and dug up a Polaroid Macro 5 SLR. I quickly figured out that this could use Impossible’s Spectra film.
The excitement was buzzing through me! Macros with a Polaroid??? I’d probably seen one of these in the past, but I’d never realized what it could do. With a SX-70, the closest you can focus is 10 inches. Being able to focus closer, provides a whole new realm of creativity to dive into.
When I got back home, I searched online and found the Polaroid Macro 5’s manual. There are 5 different distances in which you can focus the camera; 52, 26, 10, 5 and 3 inches. You press the shutter down 1/2 way and it emits two dots of light from the camera. As you bring the image into focus, the dots intersect and overlap each other; a dual-light rangefinder. There are two flashes on either side of the lens (which you can toggle on & off separately) and there’s also an external PC port on the camera, so you can slave flashes off-camera.
For those that are going to try any off-camera flash photography, you’ll find the following chart useful. You should note, that the Polaroid Macro 5 has a fixed shutter speed of 1/50th. For proper exposures using off-camera flash, you’ll need to use a handheld flash meter to figure out the right output for your strobes/flashes.
The first image I shot, cliche yes, was of Synthia’s eye. I wanted to get a feel for just how close this thing could focus. I set the Macro 5 to focus at its closest distance (3 inches), kept the exposure at neutral with the flashes on, and snapped the photo.
Later on, I went to Archinal Camera to show my friend Robert the newest acquisition. He’s got a TON of old cameras on a shelf above his desk. I grabbed an old Kodak camera and snapped another macro for the blog.
Afterwards, I went to my brother’s house and snapped a photo of Edie (my niece). She was hanging out under the kitchen table. I set the focus to 26 inches and started rocking back & forth until she was in focus. She wasn’t too fond of the focusing lights. When the image developed, I noticed a time stamp on top of the photo. I pressed the Mode button on the back until “– — —-” showed up, hoping it would turn off that feature. It did.
What about its off camera flash capabilities?? I set up a Nikon SB-600, set at 1/16th power, about 3 inches away from a dead fly I found. I figured, why not? I set the camera to its closest focusing distance (3 inches) and hooked up some Pocket Wizards. I turned the Macro 5’s internal flashes off and fired a photo.
As stated in the Macro 5’s manual, “Test exposures may be required to determine the correct location and settings for the auxiliary flash unit for correct exposure”. That’s definitely the case. My Sekonic L-358 can only meter up to f/90. I was guesstimating the right output on the SB-600 and the exposure is overexposed. Regardless of the outcome of this photo, it’s pretty nice that you CAN use slaved flashes if you want to venture down that path.
One more test shot with slaved flashes. This time I used a SB-600 & SB-800 and cross lit my Leica M2. I set the focusing distance to 10 inches and tested the flash output with the L-358. It was sitting around f/51-57.
Phew! Talk about a tough camera to shoot with off-camera flash! With a fixed shutter speed of 1/50th and also dealing with an aperture range of f/20 – f/100, it certainly makes it challenging. Now, I haven’t given up on its capabilities yet, however, I think I’ll save this thing for the next time I’m at the Dallas Arboretum. I would imagine this thing would be great for flower & insect macros.
Thanks for reading!
PS – Impossible Project has just announced their newest batch of film. To learn more about the latest advancements CLICK HERE.
September 4, 2012 § 6 Comments
Round three! Impossible improved on its previous version of PX-680 opacification test film and offered another batch to their pioneers to test. This time around, I picked up as many as I could (4 packs).
Luckily, a couple weeks ago, I had picked up a ND4 filter. I don’t have a 680 and/or 690 so this filter was going to come in VERY handy. For any non-photogs reading this, a ND4 filter reduces the amount of light that hits the film by a measurement of “2 stops”. When using a SX-70, a camera optimized for 100 speed film, a ND4 is necessary in order to get proper exposures with 600 speed film. You still have to underexpose, BUT it makes using PX-680 in a SX-70 do-able.
After the four packs of test film arrived, I loaded up the SX-70 and waited on an opportune time to head outside to snap some test images. After dinner, Synthia and I decided to walk around part of White Rock Lake. Killing two birds with one stone; a little bit of exercise & an opportunity to grab a frame …
I used the ND4 filter and cranked the exposure down 2/3’rds of the way. Trusting the ‘black paste’, I ejected it without shielding it, and tucked it away in my bag.
NOTE: When using a ND4 filter with PX-680 film in a SX-70, be aware that the camera is metering for 100 speed film. Exposures might be a little on the long side depending on where and what you are shooting. You’ll see examples of softer images in this blog post. DO NOT think for one second, that PX-680 isn’t sharp. It’s ridiculously crisp.
The following afternoon, I burned a few images on my buddy Mike Hawkins; a brilliant guy & solid friend. He’s been living in Alaska for the past year and just recently got accepted into the Peace Corps. He’s in town for a month before he makes his way out to Vanuatu (between Papa New Guinea & Fiji) to go teach English. Ya .. he’s one of those people 😉
I figured a triptych would suit him well. Hawkins-style; headband, RayBans, some old plaid shirt and his Nalgene. Word.
– Click the image for a larger size –
Later on that evening, Synthia and I went to my grandparents for dinner. When we arrived, it was nearing sunset, so I grabbed the two of them and snapped a couple of photos before it was too dark. You should have seen their faces. They lit up when the image came out of the SX-70. “A Polaroid!!!” Yes, Mema & Papa. That’s how I roll.
That weekend, my wife and I shot a wedding in Carrollton, TX. For almost all of the Impossible images I shot, I used PX-70 COOL, but for one image, I used this test film. There was an elderly couple, that had just finished dancing and I grabbed a quick pic of them as they were walking off the dance floor. I used the MINT flash bar and had it set, as suggested, at 1/2 power. I showed their son the image later on and he was ecstatic that I was going to give the bride & groom a stack of ‘polaroids’ that included this one …
A few days later, I went out to play some disc golf with Hawkins. I snapped one image while we were there. It was nearing twilight, so the light was fading quickly. The exposure was nearly a 1/3 – 1/2 of a second.
Later on during the week, I stopped by our local neighborhood convenient store to grab a drink. I’ve been going here for a good 15+ years and the owners are super friendly. Ryan, the one I seem to talk to the most was working this particular afternoon. As I was paying for my drink, I asked him if he would mind if I took a photo of him with this new test film I had. He smiled and said “Of course!” We stepped outside and I had him sit on the curb in front of the store. Because were we pretty deep in the shade, the exposure was a little long (maybe 1/10th).
After I snapped his photo, I took a quick snapshot of their sign (ND4 & -2/3rd’s). I ejected the film, without shielding it, in direct sunlight. I cruised back up there later on and gave Ryan the images I took. I figured he & his family would appreciate them.
Overall .. WOW! A huuuuuuuuge improvement in the color, compared to the PX-680 V4B that I tested out a month ago. ALL OF THESE images were shot without being shielded, upon ejection. The anti-opacification molecule is working wonders. Granted, if you don’t want a vintage look like the image above has, you might want to shield in direct sunlight. However, having that look as an option just gives you more creative flexibility on the spot. How cool is that?
The only thing I’m wondering is, upon the release of these new films, how long will it be before Impossible reveals the camera they have been working on?
August 24, 2012 § 6 Comments
A new batch of test film via The Impossible Project! This particular batch is PX-70, optimized for use in SX-70 cameras. PX-70 is rated at 125 ASA, where as the PX-680 V4B I tested was rated about 640 ASA. For these tests, I’ll be shooting in various lighting scenarios; in the shade, overcast day, sunny day, indoors, using flash etc.
— The first image I shot was of our boxer, Maybelle. She’s been catching/chewing up sticks & tennis balls in the backyard lately. I shot this with a dark-slide protecting the image from direct light nearing sundown, however when I went back inside and removed the photo, I placed it right side up to develop. I’m guessing, but it looks as if the anti-opacification juice has been ‘upped’ a little bit. As stated on their website, this version of PX-70 does take 35-45 minutes to fully develop.
Off the bat, A HUGE IMPROVEMENT over the PX680 I tested a few weeks ago. The colors that were in the scene are represented very well in this image.
— My wife and I had a portrait shoot in downtown Dallas. While I was in the Arts District, I grabbed a quick photo of the new Museum Tower. When the newsletter came out for this particular test film, Impossible stated that you should “shield from direct sunlight, with little stress if the sun hits it shortly”. It was an overcast morning, and admittedly I was overcautious. I did shield this particular image and tucked it away in a box to develop. I cranked the exposure all the way down and fired away. I checked on it every minute or so for the first 15 minutes and then brought it out into the open light to watch it develop.
— Fair Park: For the following, the image was taken with the exposure dial cranked all the way down and the image was ejected into the open in the shade. The image was exposed to ambient light for about 5-10 seconds, while I flipped it over and tucked it away in a box. There looks to be little difference in the sky, between the image shielded at the Museum Tower and the image of the Texas Star Ferris Wheel.
— I had picked up some flowers for Synthia, so I decided to use them to test the color indoors. I set them near the window and cranked the exposure dial down 2/3’rds of the way on the SX-70. I’m weary of over-exposure; can you tell? For this image, it was shot near a window indoors, without being shielded, and was developed out in the open. To be honest, I would probably focus this a little differently if I had the chance to do it over. In my hurried state of excitement, I just let the autofocus go where it wanted to.
— I went out later to a DART rail station by my house. The sun had just set, so I went ahead and shot the image, cranked 2/3’rds of the way down & unshielded. Once it ejected, I tucked it away in my bag. When I got back to my car (after maybe 2 minutes), I pulled the image out and drove back home.
— Another image grabbed was at a Rangers game. The last time I went to one, I had shot some with a Spectra & some PZ680. This time around, I was happy to have the SX-70 loaded up with this test film 🙂 We had tickets alllllllll the way up top and I snapped an image of the viewpoint. This was shot unshielded @ 2/3’rds dark and was tucked away into a box to develop seconds afterwards.
Unfortunately, since it was an evening game, I didn’t get to shoot as much as I would have liked. The ambient light faded quickly and I decided to NOT test fate on iffy exposures.
— I went up to Zak’s Donuts to snag a quick pic of a donut with sprinkles. It would be a good test of the film’s sharpness. I did the, now, normal routine of shooting it unshielded & tucked it away in the box. I shot this @ 2/3’rds dark, near a window. NOTE: As as I’ve also seen some state online, this particular batch of PX-70 film needs a little more exposure than what you’re used to giving it. I probably could have shot this at 1/2 – 1/3 dark and been OK.
— A quick shot of Synthia at the park. I used the Impossible flash bar by MINT @ 1/2 power and had the exposure dial set in the center. Shot unshielded and tucked away. It’s a little underexposed. I’ll try full power and maybe 1/3’rd dark next time around at this distance.
— We ate at the Crazy Horse Saloon in Rockwall, TX. I snagged this photo just outside the restaurant/bar that’s located in the marina. Synthia suggested to shoot it upside-down. It was a little tricky but not too bad. This image was shot 2/3’rds dark and unshielded.
The last example image shot was the one at the beginning of the article. I used the Impossible Flash Bar at 1/2 power to fire 3 other flashes in a small studio setup. I used two strip boxes and a SB-800 flash to help illuminate the scene. Please excuse the flash stand haha …
If you’ve never shot Impossible Film before, NOW IS THE TIME to get on the wagon. Word on the street is that these versions of their films will be available THIS FALL. Think about it. Pick yourself up any type of Polaroid 600, Spectra, or SX-70 and you’ll be set! Because the newer batches of film aren’t as sensitive to light, all you have to do is tuck the image away within a few seconds to develop, OR if you’re indoors, you can watch it develop! Up until this point, the images have needed a high level of protection in order to keep them safe from ambient light when the initial stages of development had begun. Shielding the film has been a necessity. Very quickly, that level of protection is becoming less & less needed.
August 17, 2012 § 7 Comments
A couple months ago, I shot a pictorial showing how to use Impossible Project film in a Mamiya RB67. Ever since then, I’ve been intrigued with the idea of using instant film in various cameras. The fact that you can use film in a camera it’s not intended for is so cool to me! You can breathe life into old cameras. This morning, I was looking at the size of PZ680 Spectra film, and I noticed a dusty old Polaroid 95A sitting on my shelf. When I got this thing, it was basically useless. Film for this camera hasn’t been made in a loooong time.
Would the back be big enough to fit a frame of Spectra film in?
Like a glove. I did some quick research online about the camera; f/8.8 with shutter speeds from 1/12th – 1/100th & a bulb setting. Using this technique, I extracted the photo from my Spectra and put it inside the 95A while in the darkroom,*my closet*. NOTE: When closed, the 95A’s back holds the film in place perfectly. Nothing extra is needed to keep the film flat & in place. If you’re removing film from your camera in the darkroom/closet, you will need a darkslide to put over the top of the cartridge BEFORE inserting it back in the camera.
The camera has notches for focusing from 3.5 – 50ft. To check its close focus, I snapped a quick photo inside my bathroom, with the lens roughly 21 inches away from the mirror. I metered the scene; 1/4th, f/8 @ 640. I tripped the shutter at the #1 setting @ 1/12th.
EDIT: Once I shot the image, I took the camera into the darkroom/closet to extract the photo, slid it back into an empty cartridge, stuck the cartridge in the Spectra and it ejected the image to start development.
SWEET. I went up the road to Archinal Camera and had Robert test the shutter speeds. On the 95A I have, the average shutter speeds are …
When testing, the speeds were a little erratic. They would jump around slightly, but for the most part, when I pressed the shutter release slowly, the results were fairly consistent.
NOTE: If this is something you are going to try, take in account that with the 95A you might have, there will be some variances to the shutter speeds because of aged mechanical parts. Also, when using this method, because of the 95A’s limited range of functionality & Impossible’s film sensitivity, you will be restricted as to where and when you can shoot.
I loaded up another image later on in the evening and shot a 1 second exposure of a reflection near my house focusing at 50 ft. I used the bulb setting on the 95A and estimated the one second exposure.
It’s a little overexposed (and not too great of an image) BUT at least I know for the things I’ll use this for, the focusing works.
Also, for close-ups at 3.5 ft, FRAMING IS DIFFICULT. I took a quick picture of my neighbor Tom and as you can see, I wasn’t quite centered completely. The viewfinder really doesn’t work for this distance, so you will have to try and position the lens where you think it should be for the composition. Tom was really excited to have his picture taken. His father used to take pics of him with a Polaroid 95A in the 50’s …
Later on in the evening, I grabbed a picture of the South Side building near downtown Dallas. NOTE: All images are reversed when shot through the 95A …
If you’ve got a Polaroid 95A just sitting on the shelf, like so many people do, it can still be used! When/if you try this, I WISH YOU THE BEST OF LUCK! As long as there are no light leaks and you gently handle the film when moving it from place to place, everything should be OK. Granted, it’s not the easiest way to make an image, and there are a handful of extra variables, but who cares. If you enjoy a roundabout creative process, pick yourself up some Spectra film and try it out!
Take your time and enjoy the fruits of your labor 😉