The Polaroid 195 manual describes the camera as extremely versatile, and mine has proved to be. It has travelled to many distant places, Sudan, Philippines, Turkey, Hong Kong… and I bought it second hand, so who knows where the camera has been. Not sure if the camera was designed to endure harsh conditions, but the camera it is up to the task: sand storms, high humidity, attempted robberies, you name them.
My Polaroid 195 was my second film camera after a Canon A1. Many years ago I was ¨flickring¨ when an image got my attention, it was its particular look, it was instant film. I decided to give it a try and I was ¨instantly¨ hooked! The shot below it is from my very first instant film pack.
At the beginning I shot at home or friend’s places. At that time I did not know what street photography was. I also experimented with bleaching and transfers.
Pack film in Sudan
After this brief introduction of my Polaroid 195 I want to share with you the experience of shooting instant pack film in Sudan (North). I moved to Sudan, together with my family, in 2011. At that time I was working with the UN. We were coming from the Phlippines. I had brought with me several cameras and quite a lot of instant pack film; Fuji FP100B, 3000B and a very expired Polaroid 108.
This 108 film is very cherished to me, as it has accompanied me for a while. I bought it in 2011, a big box a 25 double-pack film, which had expired in 2010. I bought the box on ebay with no warranties from the seller. The box was unopened, so it was a leap of faith. The results were ok, and little by little I learned how to obtain the best of it. The whole box was 250$, and people bought the few available of them in no time! Here is an example.
In Sudan you need a permission to shoot. It’s not an easy place to live, and not an easy place to shoot at. My permission took a couple of months; meanwhile I shot indoor with the Canon A1, as you can see below. Yes, the transition from the Philippines to Sudan was not easy, but we managed to go through it with a smile, and Elena, my wife, didn’t complain even once.
When shooting street photography I try to be inconspicuous, but in Sudan I was not able to shoot that way; you are seen and spotted wherever you go, and you have to be very careful when shooting at women or children. You are better advised not to. And of course do not dare to shoot police, military, infrastructures, airports, bridges… I had a bad experience when I accidentally shot at the airport without knowing it; I’ll come to that in a moment…
So I changed my shooting style, instead of shooting unobtrusively I decided I would shoot front face. The cameras of choice were a Rolleiflex 2.8e and the Polaroid 195. Mostly I would shoot with both cameras, I guess I enjoyed shooting with each camera.
I would not say I am a shy person, but still I have to push myself to approach somebody unknown and ask his/her permission to shoot at. In this case the Polaroid 195 helped me. The 195 it´s like a transformer camera, that when in full action amazes the spectator; you open the case, you unfold the lens, you stand up the visor… it’s quite a thing to watch, specially nowadays. It can smooth things. And of course is instant.
As my Arabic is almost non-existent I approached the potential target with a big smile and showing the big camera. If that did not work I would open a little tin box where I already had some polaroids and showed them. As a street seller I explained (with gestures) that I would take two pics, and he could keep one of them. It was a way of bargaining, which in Arab countries is so common. Quite often, after shooting the two pics, I had a friendly discussion on which pic to give or to keep. Yes, I was not the only one to quickly identify which pic was more palatable. Below, below the gentleman is holding the Polaroid I gave him.
Shooting on the streets with the Polaroid 195 sometimes caused a stir. People were thrilled to observe the image being produced instantly, and of course they also wanted to be shot.
Once I shot at a group of people from the distance. One man got very angry. I calmly walked towards him and showed the Polaroid. The gentleman below offered himself to be shot.
In Khartoum there is little to do, grabbing a chair to observe time pass is quite a common thing to do.
One day I walked for hours and did not shoot a single shot. I came back home and this man was sitting just 20 meters away from my place.
Another time I was speaking with a group of people on the street when suddenly this gentleman threw himself in front of me claiming to have been an athlete long time ago.
I was travelling by bus in Khartoum when I saw this kid just by himself. It looked beautiful to me. I stopped the bus and went down. He looked calm but somehow traumatised. People told me he was not Ok and might be “dangerous” to get close to. I approached little by little and got this shot.
Shooting in Sudan was harsh. Usually I would walk the big city, Khartoum, by myself. Khartoum is a dusty place, not really fitted for walking, extremely hot and dry, and certainly there are areas where you better not go, but then, you end up going there. I had few incidents with undercover police (they are basically everywhere).
As mentioned above, on one occasion I was shooting someone (below), without realizing that the airport was behind him. After a few minutes a bike with two guys arrived and tried to seize my Polaroid! Of course they did not identify themselves, I though I was being robbed, so I resisted their attempt to get my camera, and of course the situation got tense until they identified themselves as police. I showed them the pic of the Gentleman and I guessed the extravaganza of the camera and instant film played on my favor. The airport can be seen at the back
Another time I was really being assaulted, not secret police this time. I was in the wrong place and I was too bold. I walked through a group of people who might have been refugees from South Sudan. Where ever they were from, they were not respectful of me. They were just sitting there, but then walking through them it felt an obtrusive thing to do. I guess they decided that I was not being nice and that my Polaroid looked nice enough. A very big guy – the Sudanese can be big – walked towards me, I waited for him, and then with no notice he grabbed the strap of the 195. Myself, I am the opposite of big, but I do know how to defend myself, so I took his hand off; his grab was so strong that he managed to keep a piece of the strap in his hand whilst I kept the Polaroid for myself. We kept looking at each other and then somebody came and started to appease that giant Sudanese man. I was advised to swiftly go away, which I did. After that incident I really got tired and almost completely stopped shooting in Khartoum.
Few months later I happened to spend a long weekend in Ethiopia. It was just smooth, people were welcoming and everything looked just so photogenic. That was when I realized that there are places and there are places, and some places are just objectively – I dare to say – difficult to shoot.
Hope you enjoyed the pictures!