If you want my Cliff notes on the Impossible/Polaroid Originals SX-70 Film – here they are:
- It’s shit – but it’s the only shit we got.
- It’s useful today in a way the old stuff wasn’t back then.
Allow me expand on this.
I started using Polaroid SX-70 film when I was given a camera in 1984. I still have that camera. Beautiful as it is, it was already a bit of a curio then, but at the time I was a young painter embarking on many voyages of discovery, and I used it mainly for visual note-taking.
Let’s get this straight right off the bat; the real SX-70 film was in another universe from today’s in terms of vibrancy, consistency, longevity; the works. You could (and I did) exhibit and sell these Polaroids as works of art.
I used to love shooting this stuff in low light. An SX-70 is fully auto exposure, but the shutter would stay open for ages if you were game enough to try to hold one still with all that mirror-slap.
We all know the story; Polaroid closes down, it’s resurrected by Impossible Project but through no fault of theirs, the chemicals and processes that made the originals great are no longer available and while we all wanted the new film to work, it didn’t.
Your mileage may have varied. I live in Australia, and maybe it didn’t travel so well.
Case in point:
…but it got better.
So where do we stand now? I use the new stuff – but we’re in a different world now.
Here is my point: The last time I shot real SX-70 film was in Venice in 1995. I used it to make quick photos I would then reference for the paintings I was doing. But I also used it to make a couple of shots that I thought were worthy in their own right.
On returning home, I paid significant money to have these Polaroids scanned. Yep. Real money for a scan that is not really good enough for Instagram today. But there you go.
But here’s the crux of the story – the original Polaroid was an end in itself. The Polaroid was the object, the finished product.
Today I propose the following: We should now view Polaroid only as a means of capture. It is a raw file, if you like, that we must digitise (before it fades) and from which we then construct the final image.
There’s not much point, I think, in trying to provide a “how-to” or telling you what to expect, because the stuff (that I buy, anyway) is so variable. You’ll just need to muck around and see what happens – and that means blinking back the tears when your expensive shots are useless, and hoping you’ll get some gems that make it all worthwhile.
“So why not pack it in and shoot Instax?” I hear you ask.
Well, For a couple of reasons.
First reason: “Polaroid” still sounds cool. If that sounds too shallow, let me rephrase such as I might write for a catalogue. “When making works that strive to communicate a feeling of nostalgia, of longing for times past and a window to a simpler world, the heritage of the SX-70 speaks to a collective memory that other films cannot.”
Does that sound better?
Second reason: The cameras. Man, everyone should experience what it is to shoot one of these beautiful beasts from the 70s. Pressing the button on an Instax does not come close. Apart from the experience, there are practical advantages like close focus, the length of the exposures possible and the quality of the lens. Plus, an SX-70 like this is still not too expensive compared with an Instax.
And finally, for me at least, while the new stuff is shit, it’s still sort of Polaroid. It’s a bitter-sweet experience shooting it because it reminds me of what the real stuff was like and I know I’ll never get to shoot it again. And although I’d much prefer that the new stuff was way better than it is, I can’t quite bring myself to let it go.
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