The Impossible Project PX100: first thoughts

In the middle of last year two friends of mine got me interested in Polaroid photography (one being the talented Mr Messenger, read his blog here) and it’s been an expensive and frustrating, but ultimately creatively rewarding journey since.

Last year I set myself the challenge of creating a ‘curated’ collection of my Polaroids in a book, and was pretty happy with the results: “Delayed Instant Gratification”

“Delayed Instant Gratification” – self published using the phenomenal blurb.com

I created a similar project for myself on my recent trip home to South Africa, using predominantly ‘Artistic Time Zero’ film which creates a fantastic cross-process like effect and immediately transports you back 30 years:

a collection of my South Africa 2010 holiday Polaroids, on flickr if you care to look

Suffice it to say I love the analogue process and effort involved in taking a Polaroid picture, of wrestling an image from the moment. Unable to simply zoom into the subject matter and unwilling to correct the colours and crop in Photoshop, you are more aware of the subject matter, the process and the moment. In this regard it is similar to the sketches I draw when I travel.

So, just as every other Polaroid image-maker, I looked to 2010 as a seminal year. The last of Polaroid’s existing film expired in September of last year, and the much-publisized ‘The Impossible Project’ were releasing their own privately funded, developed and produced film for Polaroid SX-70 cameras. Our last hope was to arrive this year, Happy days…

 For some background on the Impossible Project and the huge undertaking the followed to create the film, follow Jake’s advice and read 

The film was released March this year and has caused much discussion around the price (near £20 for 8 shots) and look of the film.
Having played with the new Impossible Project PX-100 “First Flush” for a few days now I must say I swing between both camps; on both points.
The film is incredibly sensitive to light and temperature (they even outline details of how best to use it on their website). And yet, with all those instructions I’ve yet to meet someone who hasn’t duffed their first one or two photographs, creating the beautifully blown-out white nothingness with the hint of an image so faint as to be nearly subconscious.
Expose it to light before it’s ready: white. dead.
Let it get too cold: white. dead.
Too hot: red/black. dead

But, get it ‘right’ and my god, what a reward for the experience. I now have a process which probably won’t work when the weather gets warmer. I’ll then have to find another way to protect it from light and keep it in that magical range of 17-24ºC; but for now:

1) As the photo ejects from the camera (and before I even take the camera from my face) I cover it with my free hand and palm it to my side (it was cold, so under my coat)
2) Keeping it there, I check it briefly after about 30 seconds. If it’s getting too dark (warm) I give it some space/light. If still too light, I rub it lightly against my side.
3) if after about 45 seconds it’s still too light I lie it face down on my hand and rub the back of it with my right hand, using my palm, the side of my hand or my thumb to ‘burn’ in portions of the image. Almost by accident, I realised the beautiful opportunities in “solarizing” parts of the image in this way by allowing them to over-expose with heat. This works on even well-exposed images as an artistic fair

In this way, you are the darkroom, with only 60-90 seconds and whatever’s on you to do what you need to save and develop this image, it’s quite a geek thrill if it works. If before Polaroid was wrestling an image from the moment, now it’s literally about saving the image before the elements and the moment steal it away, fading it to white. 
The process of taking that image continues for the next 2 minutes after you’ve fired the shutter, as you save it from certain death. Anything you do in those 2 minutes will have an indelible effect on the final image. Like I say: geek thrill.

But, even the best of images lacks that porcelain clarity the original Polaroids possessed. A sharpness to the image that masked just the slightest hint of blurring at the edges, like a pin-sharp tattoo. even by comparison to some of the old photos I buy from antique shops, taken some 70 years ago of people I imagine long-since passed, the PX100 film falls short in clarity and contrast. And, while ATZ film was prone to some ‘dalmation’ spots, the PX100 film often comes littered with distracting little white streaks.

But, as with Polaroid before them, I anticipate TIP will get better at producing the film, and will produce better film. Later this year they will release a colour version of their film, and we can only anticipate it will come with a similarly Mogwai-like list of care instructions, and be equally awkward and exhilarating to use. 
But part of me hopes this isn’t the case. Not always. At the moment, having TIP film to use alongside less-tempestuous and more reliable ATZ or 600 Polaroid film is fine, but if it becomes the only option, could I afford to rely on it to capture a South African holiday for example. 

For better or worse, it’s the beginning of a new era. One with a lot of promise and just a fair share of flaws…

{My experiments with TIP PX-100 film can be found here on flickr.com}

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