When Polaroid announced they were shutting down production of their instant film lines in February of 2008, it looked like an era was coming to an end.
This article originally appeared on the Adorama Rental Co. blog.
Fans bought out the remaining stock and guarded what they had. While users of medium- and large-format instant film still had a few options with Fuji’s line up of instant film, no one offered anything for the integral film cameras made by Polaroid. So enthusiasts of the 600 and SX-70 cameras were out of luck, until a few enterprising pioneers decided to make the impossible happen.
The Impossible Project started as an idea that instant analogue film should not be allowed to slip away. Dr. Florian Kaps attended the closing for the Polaroid factory in Enschede, The Netherlands where he met long time Polaroid employee André Bosman in June of 2008. Together they devised a plan to save that plant, it’s machinery and create a new film to be enjoyed by those who still loved their Polaroid cameras and the instant film medium.
By October of 2008 The Impossible project had bought the production machinery and leased building space. A year later, in October of 2009, they had released the last of the remaining Polaroid chemistry. Many had said it would be impossible, hence the name, to create a new instant intergral film type. 2010 was when they proved everyone wrong. March of that year they released their first instant film for both SX-70 cameras, the PX100 First Flush, as well as the 600 cameras, the PX600 First Flush. Having used up my stock pile of Time Zero and 600 film, I was on board to try it out. I preordered and the day it came I loaded it up and headed out. My first results were mixed. Some didn’t come out and it was proving hard to use. The issue was that I dove in expecting it to be perfect and easy as had many others. It wasn’t. That’s when I signed up for the newsletter, checked the website frequently and things began to change.
The First Flush film was a sepia toned black and white and it was incredibly sensitive to light. Meaning, if it wasn’t shielded instantly as it came out of the camera, it could be overexposed. The Impossible film doesn’t have the same protective top coat as a Polaroid piece of film did. Why not? Well, the Impossible Project got equipment and facilities from Polaroid, but that’s about it. No chemistry recipies, no real insight. Sure, the team assembled has some extremely gifted folks, but where as Polaroid had numerous years and tons of cash for research and development, The Impossible Project did not. They put out a working, albeit tricky, film in a short period of time.
They have continued to move forward, releasing newer emulsions not just for the SX-70, but for the venerable and numerous 600 series and Spectra cameras. Both in silver shade, as well as color. Each release is a tweak, improving on the last and is made in small batches with its own characteristics. Once that batch is gone, it’s on to the next round. You could almost call it an ever-evolving beta film. While the new silver shade film looks fantastic as is, it will continue to get better. The color films are still evolving, as they began very muted and have become now more realistic.
It still is not Polaroid film, and never will be. Polaroid is a brand, with their own products including cameras and types of film. The Impossible Project is as well. It takes a bit of thought while shooting, and in this immediate digital age that frustrates some. You still need to protect the film as it comes out of your camera. Certain films require more light, some less than your camera’s original default exposure for that film speed. Temperature can effect the look of the image during development and there are concerns with how to store your photo once it is developed.
This may sound tricky and even off putting for some, but die hard fans are loving it. There is a huge community dedicated to shooting and sharing the film. There are numerous groups on Flickr to share as well as discuss it. The Impossible Project website is a vast wealth of knowledge as is their blog and newsletters. If you are lucky enough to have one of their shops in your city, as we are here in New York, you can stop in to not only get film, but find out how to use it. Having problems? Just ask, they’ll take care of you and get you moving in the right direction. The store staff is incredible, both knowledgable and friendly. They can walk you through the nuances of the film, share tips and tricks and they even have cameras and accessories for sale alongside the film. With workshops, events and a gallery space it is a haven for lovers of the medium. (If you aren't within walk-in distance, check Adorama's selection available to order online.)
There is certainly give and take with using film from The Impossible Project. Through time and revision perhaps more of the issues that make the film a bit tricky will be solved, but hopefully not all. There is something about knowing you got it right, and made that amazing image happen. It is a sense of accomplishment and wonder that can only come from shooting this way.