CROM SCHUBARTH'S THREE WAY POLAROID CAMERA SHOW DOWN

I-1 with Color Frame Film.jpg

Too many cameras, too much film, too many choices.

That’s the problem I face each month as a member of one of the 12:12 instant film projects set up by Penny Felts a few years ago. The underlying challenge for the women in the 12:12 Project and the guys in 12:12 Men is to post a photo every few weeks in which we do something we have never done before. So for the June 12:12 Men theme of “Tribute to Polaroid,” I arranged to shoot with body painter Brenda Leach and model Justine Saba of the San Jose-based Human Art Collective, a group whose work I have shot at festivals over the years.  The concept I wanted to do was inspired by a picture done a few years ago by David Miller, a Los Angeles photographer, in collaboration with body painter Jamie Graden. The picture featured a psychedelic 1960s-style painted model taking a selfie with a Polaroid.

Everywhere I looked around San Francisco this spring, people were getting ready to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the “Summer of Love.” So it seemed natural to do the 12:12 Polaroid tribute in that style, but with a color palette taken from the Polaroid rainbow stripe and adorning the model with iconic names from the company’s past. But what camera and film to use? In typical fashion, I decided to go with two of my workhorse cameras — Impossible Project’s I-1 camera and a Polaroid 180 I inherited from my late father, whose career as a Polaroid engineer started in the 1960s. I also had on hand a camera that I had just bought but hadn’t used yet, the new SQ10 from Fuji.

I keep going back to the 180 and I-1 for their manual modes that allow me to push into what could otherwise be very difficult natural light situations.  I was intrigued by the SQ10, being the photo gadget freak that I am. I figured it would be a fast and relatively cheap way to get test shots to help me, the painter and our model figure out the best way to proceed during our shoot, which was only four days before I was scheduled to post the results. When I asked Brenda how long it would take her to paint Justine, she told me, “Forever,” and it turned out she wasn’t very far off. It took five hours and ate up much of the natural afternoon light time I thought we would have. But it also gave us plenty of test shots along the way.

As the instant photos piled up, the results reminded me of conversations I had with my dad about Impossible film versus Fuji peel-apart. He tended to work on Polaroid film used for commercial work, like medicine and insurance adjusting, where getting the color as close to reality was important. When I first showed him pictures I shot on Impossible Project film, he told me, “That’s not the colors Dr. Land hired me to do.” He preferred the crisp accuracy of Polaroid’s peel-apart films that Fuji emulated in its instant films. The soft images and impressionist colors of Polaroid’s integral films that Impossible was trying to recreate (and so many shooters love) was inspired by Kodak’s films, he told me. He had experience with both because he also worked at Kodak while a student at Rochester Institute of Technology.

But I like both for different reasons. That made choosing which photo to post for June’s 12:12 theme quite difficult. In fact, I probably confused Brenda and Justine in the three days before posting because I changed my mind daily about which photo I would post. All three of my favorites accompany this blog.

The first one I chose was shot with the I-1 and Impossible Color Frame film. I even told Brenda and Justine when it first developed that I thought this shot was going to be the one I would post because the color of the frame randomly matched the subject quite well. But I had nagging doubts. The film muted the brilliant colors that Brenda had produced and didn’t have the kind of pop I thought would show her work best. So I changed my mind to a shot I did on expired Fuji FP100C film using the 180. The colors were very close to real life and I liked how they popped on the peel-apart film.

But again I had nagging doubts. Other than shooting with a fully body-painted model, what was really new about this shot? So I turned to the test shots I had done with the SQ10, a camera I had never used before the day of our shoot. I was definitely doing something new with instant film with those shots. So that is what convinced me to post the Instax Square photo the next day.

I know there are some who dislike the SQ10 because it is a hybrid camera that shoots digitally and prints on Instax film. I don’t have a problem with this because I also have enjoyed printing iPhone pictures on Impossible Project’s Instant Lab and 35MM film on peel-apart instant film with the Vivitar Slide Printer. Others dislike all Fuji Instax products. Some resent the fact that the company phased out its peel-apart instant film lines and stonewalled a group that proposed doing an Impossible Project-style rescue of the format. I fully sympathize with the second group and worry that the company is cashing in on what may be a passing fancy for instant photos by a generation that didn’t grow up with them. Boycotting a company that is finding a way to keep instant film alive, however, seems self-defeating.

After using the SQ10, I wondered how long Impossible can wait to introduce some of the features I like on the Fuji camera. They appear to have answered some of those questions with the One Step 2 camera they just introduced as they change their branding to Polaroid Originals. The big one is battery life. Any day I want to use my I-1 I have to recharge it. It drops below the level that it can power its ring flash within 24 hours and goes to zero power after a couple of days. The film counter is also rendered completely inaccurate when it needs to be fully recharged. My SQ10 so far has held a charge for at least a week, even after a lot of use and printing.

Impossible/Polaroid Originals boasts much better battery life with their new One Step 2 camera, which is nice. But it doesn’t have a lot of the sophisticated features like Bluetooth, the ring flash, autofocus and shifting lenses to wear it down, so longer battery life should be a given in the new point and shoot.

Tribute to Polaroid_SQ10.jpg

Another I-1 aggravation has been the lack of through-the-lens composition of pictures. The new One Step 2 apparently will have a similar parallax issue.  But I have gotten pretty good, through trial and error, at compensating for this on the I-1. I prefer, though, to be able to see what I am going to get before I shoot, like I can with the SQ10 and my other two Polaroid workhorses — the SLR 680 and SX70. I asked Impossible Project CEO Oskar Smolokowski about this on the day he debuted the I-1 at the Bloomberg Design conference in San Francisco. He told me that through-the-lens focusing would have cost another $1 million or so in design. He said he couldn’t afford to spend that on R&D at the time.

Another thing I like about the SQ10 versus the I-1 is that it doesn’t require juggling my camera in one hand and my iPhone in the other when I shoot manually without a tripod. I hope and trust that Impossible will address these three issues with the I-2, I-1 Gen 2, or whatever they call the next iteration of that camera. It won’t be a problem with the One Step 2 because there is no app to connect to a smartphone.

In the end, I like the I-1 a lot for its manual controls and I like the qualities of Impossible film for some of  my work. For that reason, I don’t think the One Step 2 will be for me, but I hope it is a big success that brings new Polaroid shooters on board. I also like the SQ10, in part because it is a new toy, and also because using it is closer to the experience I remember with the Polaroid integral film cameras I grew up with. I love the Polaroid 180 because it was my dad’s and because of the wonderful results I get from all of the peel-apart films, recently expired and very expired. In the end, I posted the SQ10 to 12:12 Men because it fit the requirement of using a new technique or tool each month. It also showed the contributions of my collaborators to best effect. But I won’t choose sides in the general debate about Polaroid, Fuji and Impossible cameras and films. I like and will continue to use them all, depending on what seems to fit the photo I am trying to capture.

I just wish somebody would figure out a way to produce new peel-apart film.


CONNECT

Cromwell Schubarth is an instant film shooter whose dad was a Polaroid engineer in the '60s, 70's and 80's. He is also a tech editor and reporter in Silicon Valley and a member of the 12:12 Men's Project. Connect with him on Instagram!


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 Webshots.com, 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.