Most people know by now that Polaroid recently stopped manufacturing film cameras and all the Polaroid film types. I don’t think the general public was really prepared in advance for the loss of an American institution such as Polaroid instant photography, but we who love Polaroid photography got our first taste of what can only be described as panic when we began to see seemingly innocuous notices such as this one, announcing the end of manufacture of Time-Zero film, on Polaroid’s website. The author wrote in a cordial understatement, “We realise that this is disappointing news for our loyal SX-70 users and we would like to underline that, although the circumstances made it inevitable, it was not an easy decision… We are very sorry for the inconvenience.” If by inconvenience the writer meant the first time in the history of photography that an entire medium would be taken away from the photographers who loved and used it, then it was a convenience.
For me, though, it was much, much more than an inconvenience. I was one of the many artists who had come to rely almost solely on Polaroid film types to express my passion for instances of light. Since I have only 82 shots left of my favorite film, which is Time-Zero film, I have devised ways to work with and view my Time-Zero Polas without having to use more of the film just yet. It was when I began sorting my Polas into categories according to the degree to which the film was or was not expired that a story emerged. I was surprised to see how the story of my development as a photographer paralleled the story of the decline of the excellent film; my style was growing a little more “esoteric” to match the effects I was getting from the expired film. Even the beginning of the story is a bit sad, because there will never be fresh Time-Zero film again. Everything that remains is expired, but there was once the film that I affectionately call Painted Light.
The dreamlike and painterly qualities of Time-Zero film are really accentuated by the use of a camera such as the Pronto! B, which lacks the ability to accurately focus on an image. Instead, the photographer estimates the distance of the subject and sets a dial accordingly.
A 1960s wedding gown makes the perfect nostalgic subject for a Polaroid. This is my mother’s 1962 wedding gown. The camera was the Pronto! B. The model, once again, is Lindsay. The girlfriend of my oldest son, she is one of my favorite models. The light becomes her, and she becomes light…
The image of this peony in evening light was taken with my favorite camera, the Polaroid SX-70 Model 2. Because the SX-70 (aperture range f/8- f/22) determines how wide its aperture will be based on the available light, the photographer has very little control over the depth of field, except to choose the lighting that will result in the desired aperture width. I’ve gotten to know my SX-70 quite well, how it will behave under different lighting conditions, and so forth. I actually gravitate towards lower light settings for the SX-70. The aperture opens up nice and wide, which really yields some dreamlike results with Time-Zero film. This simple peony appears almost painted. It is the color of dreaming…
The next photo is one of my favorite portraits of my daughter… It isn’t a surprise to those of us who know and love her that, when she finds a piece of wood on the beach, she picks it up, draws a face on it, and names it… In this case, she named it Chunky.
“Some ideas arrive in the form of a dream…”
–The Log Lady in David Lynch’s and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks
Time-Zero interprets light with grace and perhaps a bit of magic…
A detail from vintage signage that is still in use in Grand Marais, MN:
Late summer… How can a body be so filled with possibility (of love and of drenching the senses with sensations from an almost autumn afternoon) that really it is too much for the senses?
Time-Zero film, whose sad disappearance was a result of a series of complicated and unforunate events, is an exquisite and extraordinary film type, and its beauty and elegance is painfully underscored by the stranger and darker iterations resulting from its aging. I wish future photographers would be fortunate enough to have the opportunity and pleasure of working with it, but they will only be able to enjoy its finery by looking at the Polaroids of others. The blog is the first in a series chronicling the film in its transition from painted light to its bittersweet decline.