Photos & Projects

Photographing Punks on Polaroid – by Simon King

April 2, 2018

I’ve always thought of myself as an outsider – I think a lot of photographers do. It makes it easier for us to introspect; to look at the world from a perspective a little more distinct and distant from “participant.” Photography “insiders” photograph their families, their community, their local neighbourhood – often with lovely and very personal results.

Searching for photography projects as an outsider is both difficult and easy – difficult because you don’t really know where to look, and easy because once found you can analyse and document it as a clinical and detached artist. Unbiased, without any agenda other than the facts, the atmosphere, the characters, and the story.

The project “Punks on Polaroid” is a recent photography project I shot around Shoreditch, London, back in February (2018). This was the first focused project I shot using my new-to-me SX-70 Polaroid Land Camera. The project started after I shot some editorial images at London Edge, an alternative fashion expo and showcase. I took my SX-70 along just for a few fun images, but after they turned out better than I expected I decided to continue shooting on that theme – alternative characters – with the Polaroid.

Polaroids from London Edge, 2018

I already had a few connections in the punk scene in London, and I didn’t have to wait long before the next large gathering. I went down to Shoreditch with my M10 and my Polaroid SX-70, intending to spend most of my time using the Polaroid. I shot portraits on Impossible project B&W film, and went through three packs before I was comfortable with the selection on show here.

I never expected to be using my SX-70 for a documentary portrait style project, initially I saw it as a personal camera, something quirky for documenting my own life, and for providing a very different format to my usual 35mm format photography.

However I found that using such a unique camera was actually very conducive to the actual process of finding, approaching, and recording my subjects. People were very drawn to the clunky, shiny camera, and some even asked for a portrait after seeing me photograph someone else. Their eyes always lit up when the film was ejected, and a few asked to sit and wait while it developed, and we chatted until it was ready for them to get a photo of it on their phone – I also made sure to give them my card so they could contact me for a proper resolution scan if they wanted.

The first cartridge of film I loaded was somehow faulty; I would press the shutter and nothing would happen. Then when it eventually ejected a piece of film it was covered in ink, which stained my hands. Very odd, and an unsettling feeling that it would repeat with the next box of film (luckily it did not). Shame about the waste of money as well, as these films are quite expensive (if anyone from Impossible is reading this and wants to hit me up with a free pack of film, please get in touch!)

The sunlight was very strong, and although I tried to move my subjects into the shade there were still a few shots which came out overexposed. The film is rated at ISO 160, and with an f/8 lens you would expect any strong sunlight to be useful. However I found that on a few of my shots there was noticeable light leak, which made some of the images difficult to see!

This project helped me to improve my framing with the square format SLR. If you look at the earlier shots from London Edge you’ll see that the subject is quite low in the frame. This is because the top of the frame of my glasses obscures the top of the viewfinder, and I can’t physically see that there is any more space available to frame with – I realised this after London Edge and spent a while figuring out the bets way to hold the camera.

The SX-70 fits really well into my documentary portraiture style, and I think the fascinating characters shown here are a good reflection of the approach it encourages. I also think that the Polaroid format itself is a really interesting way to tell a story. There is a timeless, almost vintage feel to the final image, which removes them from the context of when they were taken. Although I have produced a snapshot of punk culture in London, 2018, there aren’t really any cues in the format of the images themselves that help the viewer to understand this.

I really look forward to seeing how this manipulation of aesthetic can be used in my photojournalism in the future, to really separate my images from the more clearly time locked digital, or even 35mm film photographs.

Thanks for taking the time to read about my project! If you like my work and would like to see more then you can follow a feed of my best work on instagram, or read my personal blog for specific stories and anecdotes about my everyday photography.

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  • Reply
    J Clark
    April 2, 2018 at 2:12 pm

    I really like these shots, well done! I wish I could afford to play with instant film more myself.

    • Reply
      April 2, 2018 at 6:36 pm

      Thanks! There are some good cheap instax options, and film can be bought in bulk for that format relatively inexpensively!

  • Reply
    Daniel Fjäll
    April 2, 2018 at 2:30 pm

    Really suitable aesthetic for the subjects. Love these.

    • Reply
      April 2, 2018 at 6:36 pm

      Thanks Daniel, glad you like my work!

  • Reply
    Chris Pattison
    April 2, 2018 at 6:45 pm

    I like these photographs a lot. There’s something ethereal about them, not unlike the feeling I get when looking at some wet plate photographs.

    • Reply
      April 2, 2018 at 8:01 pm

      Thank you! I also really like how etherial they are!

  • Reply
    Polaroid Giiiirl
    April 3, 2018 at 6:42 pm

    Wow- so beautiful. I came here from Reddit and fell in love with your work.

    There’s always something magical and nostalgic about a Polaroid picture. I love the vintage look of these.


    • Reply
      April 3, 2018 at 7:25 pm

      Thank you! Really glad you like them 🙂

  • Reply
    April 3, 2018 at 9:32 pm

    Hi Simon, really great images. I am wondering how you handle the Polaroids out on the street. These images take a few minutes to develop, do you tuck them into a black bag or something to avoid light? Any help with your process of the Polaroids once the shutter button is pushed would be a big help. I love the exposures I get from the camera but I am hesitant to take it on the street due to long processing times.

    • Reply
      April 3, 2018 at 10:03 pm

      Thank you Cory! I think the film I use takes around ten minutes to fully develop. I usually put them in the back area of my Billingham immediately after exposure where I know they’ll lie mostly flat. At the end of the day I take the stack and scan them on my flatbed.
      If you are very worried about bending the exposures I’d suggest carrying a small notebook that will fit the slides between the pages. This way you know for sure they will come to no harm!

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