Sunday, April 18, 2010

Impossible Instants.

A few former employees of Polaroid are running a plant in Enschede making and marketing instant film, under the name Impossible Project. Having spent some time on their site I ended up ordering two boxes of film and am now looking forward to testing the material, albeit with mixed emotions.

Polaroids were not only expensive amateur films, that traded instant gratification (or disappointment) for a steep price per print, but also unmissable testing material - when most professional work was done on the notoriously demanding colour transparencies -and a play ground for experiments that benefited from almost immediate results and their typical colour or grey tone scale. Their peculiar characteristics were well exploited by the corporation in promoting their brand and the use of the films as final art. By this they meant to encourage professional photographers to consider the Polaroid take as the original with no need for a final exposure on conventional film. The concept was promoted by publishing a beautiful magazine called P to showcase the best of the submitted professional Polaroids, and a photography collection from which exhibitions could be mounted. It was a very creative and open-minded approach unmatched by any other film company. The pictures were impressive.

Since the advent of digital photography all that and the Polaroid Land Corporation itself came to an end. Amateurs seem to me perfectly happy with their new handy cameras and LCD screens on which to view the pictures as they are being taken. The Polaroid brand lives on in the hands of another corporation with new digital products.
As for professional photographers, they have changed with the times, not so much adapting but enthusiastically embracing the ease and enormous potential of digital backs and digital postproduction. It is simply a different world. Kids don’t know any better. So, who’s missing out? Well, some creative spirits maybe.

Navigating on the Impossible site one feels taken back in time, and shown beautiful photographs with an aura of charm and creative potential. It reeks of alchemy, maybe even as alluring as that rarest of things in life: a second chance. Not only for the team of experts to salvage their jobs and expertise from oblivion, but also for us photographers who have held on to old cameras on the odd chance that a forgotten batch of film might come our way, to actually go at it again and shoot those special pictures that only Polaroids can give.

Released from any other raison d’ĂȘtre, Polaroids - as well as other analogue photography techniques and materials – belong now only in the realm of experimental and creative work. Whether the demand of this tiny branch of the market is enough to sustain an industry, it’s a gamble that some have been willing to take. In a way Impossible reminds me of Lomography. They both promote an approach to photography that is more emotional than technically exacting, marketing products that owe most of if not all their appeal to a combination of fancy advertising & design and nostalgic imperfection. In both cases it seems to me that a latitude in quality has been allowed in processes that used to be very precise, and that the prices are quite high. Lomo cameras are bad – unreliable, unsharp and leaking light – and the new Polaroids would probably have been discarded by the late inventor Mr Land as not good enough. They can deliver enchanting images though, because beauty is not necessarily technical perfection.
Hence the mix of emotions: I can’t quite decide whether this second chance is a God sent opportunity or simply an expensive and needless ride down memory lane. I guess everyone has to make this one out for themselves, judging from the results they get. Personally, I can’t wait to try.