If you are an instant photography veteran my revelations may not be for you, but I confess that I am a late comer to instant photography. I never photographed with Polaroid when instant photography was in its prime, even though I photographed on film through the 1980’s through to the early 2000’s. Even when I started shooting a Holga in 2010 I managed to miss the resurrection of Polaroid in the form of the Impossible Project. It was not, in fact, until the end of 2019 that I photographed my first instant photo on Instax.
And then I shot my first pack of Spectra.
I had decided in late 2019 that one of my 2020 projects would be to try instant photography. I ventured to purchase an Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic and happily made photos with double exposures and diptychs. At Xmas I was generously gifted a Mint Camera Instantkon RF70, perhaps the current King of the Instax, which I subjected to night time long exposures.
Finally I completed the Instax trifecta with the Lomography Diana Instant Square, with its advantage of having the ability to control the aperture and having a true B exposure mode, balanced against it’s limitations of heavy vignetting and toy camera build (top tip: it is particularly good in pinhole aperture). Despite the out of control freight train that was 2020, I was well on my way to building my experience with instant film.
Early in 2020 also saw me receive from one of my sisters a gift of her remaining film camera, a Polaroid Spectra. It was a little dusty, the rubberised bottom cushion was dry and crumbly, and the name sounded like a fictional worldwide criminal organisation. It came with four boxes of unopened Impossible Project branded film, two black and white packs and two colour, expired years ago. Of course, given this is 2020, this gift coincided with the announcement of the end of Polaroid Original’s manufacturing of Spectra Film…!
Spectra Film is the same as Polaroid 600 integral film, though the dimensions are different (Spectra is larger). Like 600 and SX70 film, the film packs contain the battery that powers the camera.
My Spectra camera is essentially automatic in function, though there are a number of options via switches at the back, including opting for infinity focus rather than autofocus, choosing whether the flash is on or off, selecting an exposure compensation setting, and turning on and off the sounds. The camera is chunky, but similar to the SX70, it is collapsed until use, where it then opens to expose the lens.
The film door opens with a button on the side, which also allows the film to load from the front under the lens, again similar to other Polaroid cameras. The camera stock is ageing, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to fix or revive Spectra Cameras, unlike Polaroid 600 or SX70s. There is a statement from Polaroid originals on why it was discontinuing the manufacture of Spectra Film.
It seems that the new Spectra Film frequently doesn’t eject properly or jams (the Impossible Project/Polaroid Originals sheets are apparently thicker than the original Polaroid Spectra), and since it isn’t possible to re-engineer the cameras or film, this fault was an extinction level event.
I had faintly hoped the Impossible Project film would work, but the Spectra Film packs I had received were just too old. Although the dark slides ejected properly, and about half the film sheets in each pack ejected without issue too, nothing of any substance developed. It appeared that in most of the film sheets the chemicals had dried out or expired too far. The only images I managed to create were abstract cream and brown mountain ranges.
Given that, I am not actually sure why I ventured to purchase a fresh pack of Spectra Film. As a friend commented to me, buying Spectra seemed liking flushing $50 notes down the toilet. Nonetheless I did purchase a new film pack and loaded my first pack of Polaroid Originals (no longer “Impossible Project”) Spectra Film.
Now, the dark slide ejected properly – good. I took a photo – satisfying. And then, not a single sheet ejected properly after that – bad!
Processing a sheet of Polaroid film, of course, requires the exposed sheet to be ejected from the film cartridge and squeezed between the camera’s rollers to be born into the world. The rollers spread the development chemicals across the film sheet. My film sheets were getting stuck before entering the rollers. I tried a number of different things to get the film to eject. What seemed to work best was removing the film cartridge and then re-inserting it, which seemed to then eject the sheet as if it were a dark slide. Many removals and re-insertions of the cartridge into the camera with Yoga manoeuvres within the dark bag were required as the film ejection did not necessarily occur with each reinsertion of the cartridge.
The resulting images showed uneven rolling of the chemicals across the sheet, and the top left corner and left side of the sheet was under or not developed in many sheets. There were curious swirls on the bottom of the frames, possibly a film or camera issue, or possibly due to me having to push the sheets back into the cartridge and reloading it into the camera multiple times. As a result of these shenanigans I found myself exclusively photographing with the Spectra camera at home, as I did not fancy carrying a dark bag with me around town.
But there were images.
Sharp yet vague. Well exposed and over exposed. Representational and dreamy. In colours I have never seen on an image I have ever created before, digital or film, instant or otherwise. Imperfect failures. Absolute triumphs. No regrets. Love at last sight.
I get it now. And I find myself wanting more…
What do you think?
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