The History of Polaroid Chocolate Film

Images: Walter Sans, Netherlands

“Cross process or chocolate film began life as an accidental combination of Polacolor ER negative and Polapan 100 positive and reagent. This unintended combination produces a result where the silver from the colour negative transfers to the BW positive and the colour dyes in the negative "stain" the BW positive. This results in a chocolate brown image colonization (cooler in tone than sepia) and unusual suppressed highlights not unlike 19th Century albumen prints.  The deep shadows can solarize at times, producing an effect like no other photographic process. The results are stunning and Polaroid recommends that final prints be scanned to insure unlimited archival stability.” -- Polaroid 20x24 Film Brochure

Polaroid Chocolate 100 is one of the rarest films Polaroid ever made; because of its unique process it produces images starkly different from any other Polaroid film. The black and white/color cross-process method produces chocolate brown images with a warm texture and other special characteristics - as indicated in the brochure quotation above. Because I am preparing to shoot a series of Polaroid Chocolate 100 photos in Paris, based upon the works of French photographer Eugène Atget, I found while researching Chocolate film that despite being a unique and beautiful film there was very little written about it; so I decided to research its history. 

In late 2008, just prior to Polaroid's ceasing film production, Dr. Paul Telford from Polaroid management asked the Polaroid production factory in Queretaro, Mexico, to combine left-over materials into three limited run pack films: Chocolate, Sepia, and Blue film. Packaging design was created by Polaroid’s in-house graphic artists. All three films were some of the last ever produced before the factory was closed forever in 2009. Chocolate 100 had a very limited production run of 29,800 packs with an expiration date of October 2009. 

Images: Eva Flaskas, Australia

I asked Dr. Telford how Polaroid’s Chocolate 100 film came to be developed. He replied:

“The special runs of 100 series peel apart films came about as part of what was called "end of life" planning for the instant film business.  Because Polaroid was highly "vertically integrated" virtually all film components and chemicals were manufactured in house.  It was inevitable that as the end of production was reached there would be a mis-match of components and chemicals required to produce the traditional products.  Film production, planning, engineering and marketing representatives therefore looked at what could be done to both optimise materials usage and provide some viable and interesting products for Polaroid enthusiasts. Film production at this stage was already running at extremely high quality levels, due to the expertise and commitment of the relatively small numbers of people remaining in the business.  Their skills enabled the development, fine tuning and manufacture of the films.  Final selection of what was most viable was a judgement call based on image quality, stability and anticipated desirability.

Our relationship with Unsalable (later to become Impossible) was the natural choice for the distribution of these films since there was an existing connection with the key target market.  We had previously developed and manufactured other films which were exclusively marketed in this way.  They were never available through any other source.”

Exact final volumes produced were:
-Sepia        30,330
-Chocolate    29,980
-Blue        14,980

Dr. Florian Kaps who was running Unsaleable – later to be Polapremium, and the precursor to The Impossible Project – purchased all the film along with the limited production Sepia and Blue films. On Thursday, December 4, 2008 PolaPremium unveiled all three films for sale on its website. Dr. Kaps had commissioned famed Polaroid graphic designer Paul Giambarba to create new packaging for the three films, these were covers that slipped over the Polaroid packaging designed by Polaroid. All three films cost $16 USD per pack of 10 exposures and were available from the PolaPremium film shop; later remaining stocks were sold by The Impossible Project.

Polaroid Chocolate 100 and the other two special films, Sepia and Blue, were some of the very last films ever produced by Polaroid before it ceased production. Despite being produced nearly 7 years ago, these films still produce beautiful images and are highly sought after by photographers. 

Images: Philippe Bourgoin, France

The Polaroid Chocolate Process

Polaroid Chocolate 100 was made to replicate the Chocolate process which was already in use in 8x10 and 20x24 Polaroid films, in which a color negative was paired with a black and white developer pod, but in 3x4” peel apart film, making the unique process more accessible. Polaroid "Chocolate" was originally developed as a cross-processed method using the color negative from 809 film, and the positive from 804 black and white film. The result was about ISO 50 and produced images with a unique solarized, split-tone, sepia-like luminescence. The process was discovered by experimentation with Polaroid 8x10 film. Images were shot on color positives (809 or 879) and then processed using black and white negative development pods (803 or 804). 

Normally when you shoot Polaroid 809 film, you put the negative half in a Polaroid film-holder, expose as you would normal film, and then you slide the positive receiving sheet into the holder (for the earlier type of holder, which serves both as a film-holder and loading tray for the processor). The positive side contains the developing chemicals in pods just like smaller format Polaroid. When you run it through the processor, it breaks the pods and spreads the chemicals, as when you pull a sheet of Polaroid out of a 4x5" holder. So what you're doing with Polaroid Chocolate is using a color negative and processing it in B&W chemistry. The color dyes developed in B&W chemistry migrate from the negative side to the positive side, forming the brown image on the positive receiving sheet. The same process used in the reverse order creates the wonderful cross-processed look favoured by photographers Paolo Roversi and Cathleen Naundorf in Paris.

With Chocolate 100 film the same process was used except in the 3x4” peel apart film format:

“By exposing the color negative and then processing the exposed negative with a B&W developer pod and B&W positive receiver sheet. The result would be that you would get silver developed in the negative and undeveloped silver dissolved and transported to the positive sheet where it would be developed on the nuclei there to form a B&W positive image. This is basically the normal instant B&W process but with the color negative the resulting image is not a neutral black but more brown. 

What makes this different from the standard B&W film is that the color negative has the three image dyes (yellow, magenta, and cyan) which are normally not there in the standard B&W negative. So, with the color negative the image dyes can migrate to the positive and "contaminate" the B&W image there. Also, the image-wide control of the dye diffusion would not be as good as that in the full color system where the developer and positive receiver sheet have been optimized to work with the color negative. 

The result of all of these factors - the brownish B&W image process and the contamination of the B&W image with the color image dyes - gives the image the chocolate look.” - Stephen Herchen, PhD

The chocolate process became quite famous after being used in a series of photos for the December 2002 issue of Sports Illustrated, the cover of which was shot as a portrait in Chocolate film. The story featured a series of NFL player portraits by legendary Sports Illustrated photographer Walter Iooss Jr. and Tracy Storer using an 8x10 camera and the chocolate process described above. Tracy Storer and John Reuter, the Director of Polaroid’s 20x24 Studio, also used the chocolate process to produce 20x24 Polaroid images.

Images: Dennis Peaudeau, France  

Polaroid Chocolate 100 Film Specifications: 
Production: Small run of 29,980 packs that expired October 2009.
Film Speed: ISO 80/DIN 20
Format: 3¼ x 4¼” (8.5 x 10.8 cm) pack film
Type:  Peel-apart Pack Film, medium-speed and medium-contrast coaterless
Image Area: 2.88 x 3.75 in. (7.3 x 9.5 cm)
Finish: Glossy
Exposures: 10 exposures per pack
Development Time: 30 seconds at 75°F (21°C)

SOURCES
•  Paul Telford, Polaroid
•  Dr. Florian “Doc” Kaps, Supersense
•  Dave Bias, Impossible Project
•  Stephen Herchen, PhD
•  John Reuter, 20x24 Studio
•  Paul Giambarba
•  Amy Heaton, Impossible Camera GmbH

 

ARTISTS
Walter San, Netherlands
Eva Flaskas, Australia
Philippe Bourgoin, France
Dennis Peaudeau, France

MORE INFORMATION
Polapremium
Packaging design by Paul Giambarba
Original Impossible Project Sale Page 2009                                                                                           (Recovered 2015)