My Fascination With Polaroid

I’ve been taking Polaroid photographs for a long time. The earliest images were taken in the mid ’70s with SX70 cameras. The SX70 is a wonderful piece of innovative design that has stood the test of time. Although Polaroid film has been discontinued a relatively new company called The Impossible Project have started re-making film for the SX70 and also the later 600 type cameras. A lot of the old cameras that had been relegated to the bottom of the wardrobe or loft are now being refurbished. Because of Impossible Project film availability there has been renewed interest in Polaroid cameras and instant photography.

Recently I have also been using older 1960’s Polaroid “Pack” cameras. These use a peel apart film that develops in around two minutes. I have been much inspired by The Instant Camera Guy on Facebook (check him out). I now modify these older cameras to take lenses with mechanical shutters sourced from 6×9 folding film cameras from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. This gives me full manual control so I don’t have to rely on the ageing electronics that control the automatic shutter that can be fooled by backlit subjects. They have the added bonus of not requiring any batteries to operate. The images are also sharper as the lenses are better quality.

My love affair with Polaroid is mainly to do with the immediacy of the image. You can have a finished photograph in your hand in two minutes without going near a computer or darkroom. People who are being photographed are fascinated by this and will patiently stand around waiting to see the end result. All of a sudden there is magic in photography again. Magic that I find missing in today’s digital world. Nowadays digital images can end up staying on a computer hard drive, camera memory card or mobile ‘phone never to be printed. For me the finished image has to be on paper and not on a computer screen.

More importantly using the modified Polaroid means you have to concentrate more on composition and exposure and to get everything right inside the camera. This has always been, and always will be, my preferred way of working. This was a skill that we honed and perfected in the days of film. Film was expensive to buy and process so we shot more carefully. I prefer “getting it right in camera” to the “spray and pray” and Photoshop mentality of today. With digital you don’t have to pay for film so, in some people’s minds, shooting isn’t as expensive as shooting film (although you pay more for new digital cameras every few years as improved models become available). Some people take far too many shots with their digital cameras hoping something useable will come out. All the time I hear “we can fix that in Photoshop”. With digital I would rather fix it in the camera and spend only seconds in post production, correcting only exposure and contrast as we would have done in a proper darkroom.

With Polaroid the whole process of taking the image is slowed down, you have to think more and generally the results are better for it. You concentrate more and a portrait can be made generally made with just one shot.

So why do I like Polaroid photography so much? Because of the excitement, the magic, the fact that you shoot slower with more concentration, because you don’t need to be near a computer and the fact that you get a physical finished product in your hand within minutes. What’s not to like?