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)

•  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


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

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

Q&A: Cheyenne Morrison's Series Instax Island

Cairns Photographer Cheyenne Morrison steps back in time as he captures beautiful images using vintage Polaroid cameras and film. In an era of technology and speed, Cheyenne Morrison has chosen to use a dying technology, the Polaroid Transfer process to create unique works of art. Photographs are shot on a Polaroid 180 camera, or to 35mm slides which are then transferred onto expired Polaroid 669 film which ceased production in 2009, before being transferred onto watercolor paper. The end result is a unique work of art, like a watercolor painting crossed with a photograph, with a softness and grain that can only be achieved by shooting this way.

Formerly he was the number one private island broker in the world, traveling to over 100 countries documenting some of the most beautiful islands in the world. Prior to that he was a world-leading body piercer, had a Native American jewellery business, a bodyguard, and a Cartographer in the Australian Army. 

Cheyenne has just returned from 5 weeks as a castaway on a private tropical island at remote Cape York in Australia and brought a Fuji Instax 500AF along to document his adventure.  We sat down with him to discuss his resulting series, "Instax Island". Connect with Cheyenne on Flickr and Tumblr!

Tell us about your #InstaxIsland Project:

The biggest reason for getting back into analogue photography was because of my daughter Angelique, who just turned 10 years old. Like many people of a certain age our family kept family photo albums, and when people came over you could show them your travels, or have your parents show embarrassing photos of you. Shooting digital photos of my daughter growing up made me ache for the tangible, print photos kept in an album I like I had in my youth. I became increasingly concerned about the validity and long-term results of digital photographs after my external Hard Drive became corrupted and every single photo I had taken of my daughter was almost lost. I have family photos from the 1870s, but digital photos are such an ephemeral medium that we are in danger of losing our history.

My major goal in doing the project was to create a physical, lasting reminder of one of the biggest adventures in our life; spending 5 weeks alone on a remote tropical island. Secondly to document our adventures on Instagram, and finally push myself as a photographer with the instant medium. I was care-taking Restoration Island, on remote Cape York, in the state of Queensland in Australia for my friend David Glasheen, Australia’s own Robinson Crusoe. I have been friend with Dave many years, created his website and gained him publicity all over the world. He has been featured on the BBC, New York Times etc, ad when he needed a lengthy holiday offered me to be caretaker of this amazing island. The only civilization near the island is the Aboriginal settlement of Lockhart River which is 45 minutes’ drive away on the mainland. My daughter and I, two dogs and the occasional crocodile were the sole inhabitants of the island for the 5 weeks documented in the project. Sadly, on the boat voyage over to the island my camera was damaged which resulted in the weird lens flares you can see in some photos. Funnily some people liked this effect. All in all I achieved my result, we now have the photos in a vintage photo album, and this amazing experience is preserved for posterity. When she grows up my daughter can show my grandchildren these photos, and even in 100 years’ time they will endure.

In your former life you were a Private Island Broker, what was that like?

I was a private island broker for nearly 10 years, eventually becoming the number one private island broker in the world, with 250+ islands listed in over 80 countries, valued at over $2.5 billion. I was featured in Forbes, Fortune, The NY Times, London Times, Time, Newsweek and nearly every major newspaper or magazine around the world. Part of my success in getting all that publicity was the incredible photos I took of tropical islands all over the world. I used to have my photos on a server called, and my photos were their No.1 downloaded photos of islands in the world. I took hundreds of trips to remote islands all over the world by boat or helicopter, but my best shots were achieved flying around the Philippines in a 1963 Cessna Seaplane. The global financial crisis, tsunamis and 8 months a year traveling and being away from my daughter finally led me to giving the islands business away. Being number one in the world at my profession is an achievement I will always be proud of.

Tell us about when instant film came into your life and what inspired to you to keep using it:

I love everything analogue, and appreciate the beauty of anachronistic technologies, such as typewriters, letterpress printing, fountain pens, the handwritten letter, and love writing my ideas in paper notebooks. Writing with a typewriter is a totally different experience and thought process to writing on a computer, and shooting with film also requires a different thought process. You have to slow down, and consider each shot before you take it, and an analogue photo is something tactile and tangible you can hold in your hand and cherish as opposed to megapixels floating around in the ether.

I’ve loved photography all my life, and for many years when I was selling island solely relied on Canon digital cameras, but despite the fact they work perfectly there was something lacking in the image, and the process. I really missed the ritual of taking a roll of film, sending it off to the lab and getting back tangible prints, and negatives. As a child my father was an Engineer and he owned a Polaroid 250 which he used to document his work, I still remember the magic 60 seconds and then seeing you photo. With that childhood experience in the back of my mind I discovered the blog of a photographer called Sean Rohde who had an incredible array of work with expired Polaroid cameras and film, and that discovery sent me down the rabbit hole of the instant photography world. So I’d like to thank Sean for that initial inspiration and the beautiful work he does.

What is your favorite instant film?

Fujifilm Instax Wide film which I used for the #InstaxIsland Project is fantastic, even better in term of color and clarity than the original Polaroid film. However, my favorite film is undoubtedly Polaroid 669 film, because I work with the Polaroid transfer process. After exposing the film I pull it apart and then rub the negative onto watercolor paper. The subtle colors and textures it creates are unlike any other photographic process, the closest analogy is that is a cross between a photo and a watercolor painting. Each image is the result of a series of variables including the quality and expiry date of the film, temperature, humidity and the actual hand-peeling process; this makes each Polaroid transfer absolutely one off and unique.

Nothing in the world is like this unpredictable, ethereal and definitely nostalgic medium. I was fortunate enough to get 1,000 shots from a US Military radiological laboratory which had been refrigerated since new, and another 1,000 shots here and there, but it’s amazing to see the prices being paid for it now. It worries me that I have embarked on a new profession using a dead and dying medium, but the results cannot be produced by any other means.  Another attraction of the Polaroid Transfer process is I can shoot 35mm transparencies (slides) which I can then later use to create transfers multiple times. I currently have the rare Japanese black lacquer version of the Canon Canonet QL17 GIII, but I’m tracking down a Leica M3 with a 50mm Dual Range lens for close work.

What types of Instant Cameras do you own? Which One is your favorite and why?

I own a Polaroid 180, a Fujifilm 500AF, an original Polaroid Mio and I’m fortunate enough to own a Big Shot Polaroid camera personally owned by Andy Warhol, although Warhol owned dozens of them. To me the Big Shot is of course my favorite to the extent I named my business after it. It is the least recognized and respected of all the cameras produced by Polaroid, and I love it because it produces perfect portraits every time. It took me over a year, but I tracked down the inventor, and got him to autograph a set of patents I had made. The story of how the camera was invented can be read here.

Do you have any upcoming exhibitions/publications?

I will be exhibiting the shots taken on my #InstaxIsland project at Expolaroid in Melbourne in April. I’m working on a series of Polaroid Transfers of tropical flowers which I hope to exhibit at Les Rencontres d'Arles in France in September.

Do you have any instant photographers that inspire you?

I really admire what Andy Warhol did with Polaroid; he used a Big Shot polaroid camera from 1971 until his death in 1986 to produce all his famed silk screen portraits; he called the camera his “pen and pencil”. I’m part of the Facebook “instantfilmgroup” and there are so many inspiring photographers there. Matt Marrash, Penny Felts, Eva Flaskas, Philippe Bourgoin, Emily & Victor Soto, Rhiannon Adam, Kyle Michael, Jarrod Renaud, there are just too many to name. I’m proud to have as my mentor Peter Balazsy a master of the Polaroid Transfer process who worked with Polaroid, and who pioneered and developed the Fuji transfer process in 1992. Peter was kind enough to sell me all his Polaroid Transfer equipment, and is my biggest inspiration.  

I’m really inspired by Mark Sink who was Warhol’s assistant for many years. I am his Australian Ambassador for his Month of Photography Project starting. Mark used Polaroid with Warhol, and was one of the first to use a Diana F camera to produce fine art, in fact I think you could call him the Grandfather of Lomography. He is now working with wet plate collodion process with his partner producing beautiful and ethereal images. I did a recent interview with him in Enchantress Magazine.

I love the work of New York photographer Lucas Michael who shot the Golden Globes for several years using a Big Shot camera. His shots really show that a plastic camera that originally sold for $19.99 can produce images as great as any modern digital camera. The photographers using Polaroid film I most admire would be Paolo Roversi and Cathleen Naundorf, both working with Polaroid 809 film in Paris. I’m working on a project in Paris later this year and it’s my goal to meet them. For those who aren’t familiar with is work wrote a detailed article about Paolo Roversi here.