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.

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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.


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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: EXPIRED EIGHT /W GUILLAUME NALIN

This is the 21st 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 Guillaume Nalin!

Guillaume Nalin is a professional decorative painter with a 15+ of urban graffiti experience who lives and works in Paris, France. Over the years his employment and non-photography related creative work has taken him to many international locations, like the USA and Russia, and has taken up much of his time. When he has free moments while traveling for work or at home, he shoots Polaroid images with his Polaroid SX-70 and Polaroid Land Camera 180. Nalin's work is greatly influenced by his urban art background. His Polaroid images show an urban landscape that is full of life by composing pictures made up of hard lines and contrasting colors and shapes. Though many of his images show a human form, they are not the center of his images. They help to show the desolate nature of the forgotten streets, subways, and industrial areas that used to have so much life. 

Nalin's photographs have recently been highlighted by several on-line platforms, including Polanoid, Polaroid Passion, and The Polavoid. He has also exhibited his work as apart of Expolaroid 2013 in Montelimar, France. He has several future projects lined up and is looking forward releasing a book of his work later this year. 

Connect with Guillaume Nalin on his Instagram!

Tell us about when instant film came into your life and what inspired you to keep using it:
Between 2004 and 2005 I found a few Polaroid cameras like the Polaroid 1000 and 3000 model cameras, but without any film. I thought that it wasn't possible to find it anymore. In 2007, in an antiques market, I found two original Time Zero film packs but the guy who sold me it told me said that it was his last one and that Polaroid had stopped to producing it. At that moment I didn't know that other types of film could be used for these kind of cameras. At that point I had only shot two packs of film, and the results weren't so great.

Two years later I finally tried to find some ways to use these cameras, and started to do some research on internet. At the same time I discovered two websites: Polanoid and Polaroid Passion. I was very surprised and excited to discover so many different works of many photographers who used only Polaroid films, At the same time I discovered 600 type film and that it was possible to use it with my cameras. The very next week I begun to create my own stock of instant film consisting of expired Type 600 Film, Time Zero, TZ Artistic, and Fade to Black.  I haven't stopped buying film since. My biggest discovery was when I saw some pictures made with the SX-70, and I thought to myself “I want one!”  At this time in my life, I used to do a lot of urban explorations and for me, the effect and the frame of Polaroid film was a good way to capture these magics moments.

What attracted you to Expired Film. What's your favorite to use?
Expired Polaroid film has an effect which looks like a kind of “patina” effect, which allows me a way to recreate the atmosphere that I want to translate in my pictures. The particularities of expired film like weird colors, scratches, and light effects inspire me to create and compose pictures that highlight these effects. For me it's also a way to bring some poetry to the subject that I shoot.This is why I also like to shoot famous places or monuments. Even if every body had the same pictures made with digital cameras, my images made with expired Polaroid film make them unique. 

How do you describe your work and how do you decide what subjects to photograph? What sorts of things capture your attention?
I work with few different themes, but the main idea of them is probably the city, the urban atmosphere, the urban landscape. I've spent a lot of time to walking in the city, I have 15 years of graffiti background experience, and that's probably why I find so much inspiration in this subject. The street, trains, subway, and the  forgotten industrial area are all things I try to capture. I compose images like the way I paint. I try to find a balance of light that highlights lines and perspective. That's a big reason why I love to use  expired Time Zero and Type 669 film. With these films the effects of painting by using the strong contrast of colors and light. Often times I have people in my images in a fixed way. I use them so you can feel the void of the city become alive.

I also enjoy using the reflections in water like after a rain and you can find a big hole of water in the street. I spend a lot of time in the city focused on water until I can find the best moment and spot to shoot. Nature is an important subject to me too. I try to find some particular place, like an abandoned bunker on the beach or an abandoned house in the country side. I enjoy the contrast between what humans have created and natures colors and strong shapes.

What are the main difficulties and hurdles obtaining and using expired film in this format?
The main difficulty is actually finding film. Fortunately I have many packs of Time Zero, Type 669 and Type 600 still in my fridge. The hardest part is finding some at a good price that is also still good to use. It's not impossible, but very hard because the results depend on the expiration date and the way the films have been stored. 

What types of Instant Cameras do you own?  Which One is your favorite and why?
I have a lot of Polaroid cameras: a Type 600 camera, a Type 1000 camera, a few SX-70s, one Polaroid Image Camera and one Polaroid Land Camera 180. Most of the time I'm using the SX-70 and the Land Camera 180, as those formats are my favorite. To be honest, I always have both of them in my bag when I'm going to shoot. I pick the camera from my bag based on the moments I find myself in.

Any tips for those interested in experimenting?
 I advise you not to buy film expired before 2003 for Time Zero and 2001 for Type 669. To have some good results really depending on the film though. The expired Type 600 film really doesn't like strong natural light. The opposite is true with Time Zero and Type 669 which give some great colors with summer light. I think it is better to overexpose with expired films.

When you are not shooting expired Polaroid film, what film are you shooting any why?
When I'm not shooting with expired Polaroid film, which is rare, I'm using Impossible Project film. I use both color and black and white versions of their film. With this type of film I try to work on manipulations like double exposures and other techniques. I sometimes shoot with Fuji FP-100c and Fuji FP-3000b, but at the moment I prefer to wait until they have become expired. Film is like good wine, I don't appreciate it when it is to fresh. 

Do you have any instant photographers that inspire you?
My biggest influence in photography it's people who use Polaroid, and people who I follow since many years, like Bastian Kalous for his amazing landscapes, Thomas Zamolo for his perfect Polaroid compositions, Carmen De Vos for her scenes and great compositions, Brandon C Long for his amazing work with Time Zero, Philippe Bourgouin for his nude pictures… Too many people !


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Michael Behlen is a photography enthusiast from Fresno, CA. He works in finance and spends his free time shooting instant film and seeing live music, usually a combination of the two. He is the founder of PRYME Editions. Connect with Michael Behlen on his Website and on Instagram!