The World Through 3 x 3 Windows
By Ken Weimar
8 Jul 2009
Ten years ago, photography was moving unstoppably toward digital. My response was to go retro and fall in love with all things Polaroid.
Thanks to eBay, I scored a very sexy SX70, brushed metal with black leatherette. This camera was a technological marvel when it was introduced in the 1970's and twenty-some-odd years later it was still pretty damn cool. After all, what other single lens reflex can fold up?
Time Zero film had a gorgeous quality not seen anywhere else-soft and glowing. Sadly, this film was among the first to go (predeceased by my beloved Polapan instant B&W slide film, perhaps the most beautiful film ever). Time Zero allowed you to mush around the emulsion as it was developing (technique that inspired me to get the camera in the first place, yet sadly a technique I never mastered.)
Though Time Zero was dead, Type 600 has kept me going. It says on the box that Type 600 is not for use in the SX70, with a little manipulation, it works. Mostly the problem is that Type 600 is faster than the old Time Zero and the shutter is too slow, leading to overexposure. The solution is a simple ND filter glued to the lens. It has a yellow cast but still gives that glow. Now Type 600 is no longer. I have stockpile but its running low. Rumors are out there that a plant might start making it again in small batches.
I am fortunate to have a job that takes me to Africa once a year. I spend a few days out on rural farms where my $100 Polaroid gets more attention than the thousands of dollars of digital equipment that surrounds me. Children gather shyly around the edges of the farms we visit. If we try to snap a picture, their faces are impassive and suspicious.
But there is always one who is brave--often a younger girl who will come out to see what these strange visitors are doing on the farm.
I'll take out my Polaroid, get down on my knees and snap a picture.
It makes that great Polaroid sound bzzzzzzzzzthup. And the eyes light up. They look at the print which is black on one side, white on the other and look at me blankly. I have them hold the print in one palm and wave their other hand over the developing image (flapping it around only damages it). Slowly they see their face appear. Suddenly all the children swarm out from the shadows and stand tall, chins up, with big smiles waiting for their closeup.
The images are truly precious and of course I give to the kids . I will ask the kids to hold up their Polaroid so I can get a picture of them and their pictures. It brings me great joy and I hope it gives them some too.
Digital may be great. It has opened lots of new and interesting ways to create and share images. The SX70 frame and shape is an icon. You can fake a Polaroid in Photoshop, I can even fake one with my iPhone. But the immediacy, intimacy, physicality of a real Polaroid will always be something special.