Q&A: Expired Eight /w Cromwell Schubarth

This is the seventh edition of our Q&A blog series titled "The Expired Eight". Our aim is to highlight instant film photographers using expired film in a variety of formats. Today's Q&A is with Cromwell Schubarth. Connect with Cromwell on Flickr!

Tell us about when instant film came into your life and what inspired to you to keep using it?    
     My father worked as a photo engineer at Polaroid in Cambridge, and in Waltham, from the early 1960s through the mid 1980s. So I was introduced to many of the cameras and films from an early age when they were being tested.
The first one that I personally owned and used was the Swinger, which I thought was pretty cool. I later owned a few other Polaroids over the years, as well. But I only used them for snapshots and parties. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I found a couple of the cameras in a closet, with some film, that I started playing around with them again. A former coworker of my dad’s heard about my rekindled interest and sent me an SX70 with some packs of expired Time Zero. I was hooked as soon as I saw the results.

What attracted you to expired film? Have a favorite?
     I fell in love with expired film because of the random effects they produce and their unique color qualities. It’s always a surprise. I like each of them for different reasons and try to plan out how I will use them before I open a pack. This makes it quite frustrating when I get a bad pack but very exciting when another exceeds my expectations. My favorites are Chocolate and 669 because I have done my favorite work with those films.

How would you describe your work?
     I would describe it as a work in progress. Or restless.

I get excited by projects, like my series of lighthouses shot with Time Zero, or serendipitous opportunities, like when I found out about a Day of the Dead parade when I had some Chocolate on hand. But I haven’t settled on a theme or definite style. I don’t know if I ever will, consciously.

What types of Instant Cameras and film do you use? What is your favorite combination?
     My favorite combination of expired film and camera would be my 250 with either Chocolate or 669 film. The SX70 with Time Zero is a close second. I have quite an assortment of other cameras, including a Macro 5 and one of the pinhole versions that Polaroid sold as a kit. I recently bought a Mint SLR670m and have begun experimenting with that, too, with some good results.

What are the main difficulties and hurdles obtaining and using expired film?
     I am fortunate that my wife became interested in playing around with Polaroid transfers in the late 1990s and early 2000s. She bought up lots of expired peel-apart film at the time. We have kept that in the fridge and even hauled it across the country with us when we swapped coasts about nine years ago. I have also received some expired packs from my dad’s friend who comes upon them through the network of ex-Polaroid employees they still see. I have had mixed results buying packs online and often find the prices exceed limits I set for myself, so I usually let them pass to others and hope they get what they paid for. The biggest difficulty I have is finding that I have a dry pack that doesn’t work at all, something I know of no cure (nor solace) for.

Any tips for those interested in experimenting?
     I try to carefully plan out what I am going to shoot before I open a pack of expired film. I then gauge what to do after I have pulled the first picture. The range of color, odd flashes, light or dark exposure tendencies and incomplete spread of developer on the print then dictates how I proceed.

How would you describe using an instant film camera now opposed to when you were growing up, having the latest and greatest camera modes?
The Polaroids I first used were pretty basic and I wasn’t very careful about how I used them. It wasn’t until my reawakened fascination with the medium that I bought the better versions, unfortunately after Polaroid abandoned film. But I am having fun with Fuji peel-apart (while it lasts) and the improving quality of Impossible films. I sometimes do pinhole Dianas using Fuji mini film and home made gels. I also backed the New55 Kickstarter project and look forward to what they produce for 4X5 cameras.

Do you have any instant photographers that inspire you?
     I love to thumb through “The Polaroid Book” from Taschen that features work by the talented photographers who used instant film in its prime.
I am also inspired by the community of instant photographers I found on Flickr when the bug first bit me, particularly during Roid Weeks, which is the only time I see some of them return to that site. I value the feedback and support people offer and hesitate to single any out. If you look through my favorites on Flickr, you will see who has inspired me most recently.
But I am particularly impressed by the work of Penny Felts-Nannini, even though I think our styles and choice of subject are quite different. The 12:12 projects that she organized, first with a group of women photographers and lately with a group of men (and Penny) all shooting their versions of the same themes has been very interesting and inspirational, as well.