Don’t waste an instant

What would you do with 120 seconds? Or 15? Pack-film, which is now sadly dwindling to impossible availability, developed photographs within the span of these seconds, allowing chemicals and light to produce an image from their literal bound courtship. The Impossible Project, Fujiflm, and firstly and most notably Polaroid are all brands that brought about the production of this film. There are, of course, other instant film types that work in similar ways, for other types of cameras and camera backs. This is a love letter to those seconds in which all instant film develops with a love note embedded into it for lo-fi photography.

The quality of an artwork can technically always be debated by anyone, as a single piece of art has infinite interpretations and consequences. I maintain however that there are vivid distinctions between a mediocre piece and an extraordinary piece. Extraordinary pieces do not always “follow” or “break” artistic “guidelines” or even be done with attention nor intention. However, in my experience, extraordinary pieces tend to look attentive and intentional in their own right; they must speak, because extraordinary things always have something to say.

Instant film has become a raging trend in the past decade or so, when The Impossible Project began their campaign to revive Polaroid. From OneSteps to FujiInstaxes, the internet has become littered with uploaded $2 – $10 exposures, often poorly composed and badly developed. Some of the magical things about instant photography is that a) instant film is highly unreliable, b) mainstream instant film cameras are usually rather bulky and/or awkward with minimal creative control, and c) the process of instant film is inconvenient, messy, and creates clutter. It’s no surprise that many photographs that come out are less than failingly experimental but also just simply bad. Instant film is a challenge. It is not only a challenge, but it is an expensive challenge; a hard-to-reach privilege for an already massively greedy art. This is why I feel instant film has the most potential for professional artistic development out of all creative mediums and why I also feel we have so far completely failed instant film.

15, 30, 90, 120 seconds. These are all staple times for instant film to develop, whether you peel it apart, such as you do with pack-film, or whether it comes out from under the shadow of your camera’s tongue. 15, 30, 90, 120 seconds. You have just that time for the photograph to mature. You do not have the aid of Photoshop, GIMP, Lightroom, or the darkroom. Those chemicals and photons are picking up your slack–or they’re not. It is not up to you; and quite frankly, it is not up to them, either. They are not there to please you. You do not have the control. You, the photographer, are finally helpless to your shortcomings. You cannot fix it. If in-camera, you screwed up, the baby that chemical reaction is having will show it.

You have to be an extraordinary photographer to create consistently extraordinary instant film photographs; and that is what instant film should be about.

Polaroid Originals has come out with advertising recently for “accessorizing” with your Polaroid cameras and something about Yves St Laurent pitching in to help design for their line, and it is infuriating. While digital photography classes are running amok and people are paying hundreds and maybe even thousands of dollars to get taught by people who depend on Photoshop and excessive gear to create their photographs, instant film is getting humiliated by capitalism and more than likely hobbyists with too much money.

Now, let me stop here. Even excessive, expensive gear cannot make a good photograph in either digital or film photography, and Photoshop can only help to an extent — and PS can ruin extraordinary more easily than it create it, as well; that’s for sure. However, what do you learn from taking a photograph you can delete with no repercussions? When every shot you take costs $2 – $10, you learn — or should learn — to look more carefully; when every shot you take takes time and patience and accountability, you learn faster, and you learn harder. When you use a camera that limits you more, you learn to work within more difficult parameters. When you have more restrictions, you focus better. If you want to take photographs, you learn digital. When you want to make photographs, you learn film. When you want to make extraordinary photography, you learn light, because that is the basis of all of this: light. Chemicals and photons, and something to capture their reaction to one another. Even with something as basic as a pinhole camera, you have access to a complicated darkroom; with instant film, that exposure is your darkroom, and it’s as basic as it gets. Make your art. Don’t take shit and expect gold.

I have so much room to grow and so much more to learn and understand about photography, art, the world around me, and everything else, but instant film has made me greatly better at all my mediums and lent its hand in shaping the way I observe the universe and existence. I firmly believe it can help all artists grow exponentially if provided with the resources to pursue it. So why are we talking about instant film like people talk about fashion? It is an art, a challenge, a medium, a voice, a muscle. Use it or lose it but for the love of all that is beautiful in the world, do not wear your SX-70 like it’s your first pair of Uggs.


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