Like Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi, it felt like the universe was saying: NO FILM FOR YOU!
Taught as part of most fine art degrees in photography in the ’70s and ’80s, painting with the emulsion of Polaroid film was the hardest for some. I’ve had photographers of my era come into my gallery or art fair a booth and flash back to a class where they struggled to move the emulsion to create something evocative… not muddy.
“Oh, I hated this class,” I’ve heard more than once.
I loved it. I was one of those kids who was always drawing, but wasn’t quite good enough. But I also loved cameras and film and angles and light. That one stuck better. And adults weren’t discouraging me. So photography it was.
But part of me wanted to feel the movement of the paint under my fingers as the creation evolved.
Actually, it was a special Polaroid film, SX-70, that had a manufacturing flaw that allowed the emulsion to stay chemically active and soft for a period of time, allowing us the change the shape and colors as it developed. To do it right takes time and knowledge of how color film develops, how to control the developing speed, and … here’s the kicker: how to draw.
To create a Polaroid Painting, you have to think like a painter. You have to know what you want it to look like before you begin. If you try to figure it out as your go, it will look messy or contrived… or like a Photoshop filter.
It’s hard for photographers to think ahead. (And one of the reasons why I teach drawing for photographers, so they can craft their images rather than “capture” them… but that’s for another day.)
This film is gone. Discontinued in 2008. I hoarded and cared for my film for three years. Out of one 10 pack of film, I MIGHT get one good image. You see the problem. There just wasn’t going to be enough film for the images I wanted.
Oh, do this in Photoshop, I hear. It’s not the same. It’s not just that the feel isn’t the same… the look isn’t the same. Part of art is INTENTION. Part of film is texture. Photoshop often fails.
I have one special pack of film left, stashed in the back of the refrigerator, with a roll of exposed by undeveloped Kodachrome that I missed when the last of that film was being processed.
Eight sheets of film. Waiting.
Impossible Project is working to bring back my film. They have done remarkable work replicating lots of the old Polaroid film… but the SX-70 is not the same.
In the meantime, I have these.
So can you.